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GORILLAS WERE MY 
NEIGHBOURS 


This edition, issued in 1957, is for members of The 
Companion Book Club, 8 Long Acre, London, W.C.gg, 
from which address particulars of membership may be 
obtained. The book is published by arrangement with 
the original publishers, Longmans, Green and Go. Ltd. 



"A blessed cow panion is a book” — jerrold 



GORILLAS WERE MY 
NEIGHBOURS 

■k 

FRED G.MERFIELD 

with 

HARRY MILLER 


THE COMPANION BOOK CLUB 
LONDON 



To 

HILDA 
my wife 


Made and printed in Great Britain 
for The Companion Book Club (Odhams Prcsi Ltd.) 
by Odhams (Watford) Limited 
Watford, Herts 
S.gfy.ZSA 



CONTENTS 


INTRODUCTION page 1 1 

I THE GREAT GORILLA OF AMBAM I5 

11 THE MAKA CANNIBALS 41 

HI CHIMPS, CHOGAS AND GORILLAS 62 

IV BIG GAME HUNTERS 83 

V l’inspecteur de chasse 108 

VI THE GHOST OF THE SANAGA GRASSLANDS 13 1 

VII THE WOMAN CHIEFTAIN OF CHEICE 143 

VIII THE SILENT CITY OF REI BOUBA 163 

IX THE MENDJIM MEY 189 

X SHOOTMAN’s WOMAN 219 

XI JUNGLE HOUSE-KEEPER 2^1 

XII GOOD-BYE GORILLAS 367 


5 




ILLUSTRATIONS 


Fred Merfield today facing page 52 

A truly magnificent bull gorilla 33 

At the camp-fire in gorilla country 64 

Two baby gorillas saved from the round-up 6j 

The author on the banks of the Sanaga river 65 

Bo-Bo, the chain-smoking chimp 96 

The Court Jester wrestling with a pet hyena 97 

The Public Executioner of Rei Bouba 128 

Condemned slave and the executioner-lion 128 

Major Powell-Cotton with a young bull gorilla 129 
Typical river crossing of the West African forest 160 
The giant forest hog, a rare and dangerous animal 1 60 
Mrs, Hilda Merlield on the way to the Mendjim Mey 161 
Besalla holding a baby gorilla 192 

Banana torn down by marauding gorillas 193 

Two young gorillas, Tarzan and Jeeves 193 

Mrs. Merfield and her baby beside a big bull gorilla 224 
Guy, the London Zoo’s gorilla : two studies 225 

A further portrait of Guy 256 

The author holding an elephant’s tooth 257 

Some African souvenirs, and a giant fi'og 257 


1 




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 


My gi'ateful thanks are due to Mrs. H. B. Powell-Cotton, 
widow of Major P. H. G. Powell-Cotton and Trustee of 
the Powell-Cotton Museum, Birchington, Kent, for per- 
mission to reproduce so many photographs of my life in 
the French Carneroons and for advising on the chapters 
concerning her late husband; to my collaborator Harry 
Miller, F.Z.S., who was entirely responsible for the style 
and treatment of this book; and to my wise and gentle 
friend Laurie Smith, Head Keeper of Primates at the 
London Zoo, who brought Mr. Miller and myself together 
and gave us invaluable advice and encouragement. 






INTRODUCTION 


It has been estimated that the number of gorillas in 
the world is not less than a thousand or more than ten 
thousand; from which we may infer, firstly, that gorillas 
are rare animals; secondly — from the very wide disparity 
of the two figures — that the difficulties of studying them 
must be considerable. That little is known about the 
gorilla may at first sight seem strange, for the animal 
has undeniable attractions for the student of natural 
history. To begin with, it is by far the largest and most 
spectacular of the great apes, reaching the prodigious 
weight of forty-three stone. It is in many ways the most 
man-like of all animals, meriting for that reason alone 
our closest attention; and from far back in history its 
life and habits have attracted the wildest speculation and 
romance. 

The French naturalist du Chaillu brought back to 
Europe the first authentic description of the gorilla, but 
for many centuries travellers had told of a giant man- 
ape, of incredible strength and ferocity, which fought with 
leopards, belaboured elephants with clubs, and abducted 
village maidens. Gorillas were endowed with a most 
aggressive nature, and were said to hang by their hands 
from the branches of trees, using their feet to catch and 
strangle passing natives. Tales of this kind seeped out 
of Africa into Europe, the Middle East and Asia, acquir- 
ing marvellous embellishments en route, and finally 
drifting into the folk-lore and fables of many nations. 


11 



The inoffensive gorilla may well have been a model for 
the Ogre of our legends. 

To-day the gorilla has been stripped of these fabrica- 
tions, even in Africa, where hunters and naturalists are 
so inclined to fiction. But it is still a creature of mystery. 
Because of the inaccessible nature of its forest home, its 
rarity, and strict Government protection, few sportsmen 
have hunted the gorilla, and fewer still have stayed for 
more than three or four months at a time in its territory. 
Photography and direct observation are severely limited 
by the very dense forest; and since nine times out of ten 
a young gorilla, caught and caged, will turn its face to the 
wall and die of sheer despair, not many zoos have been 
able to keep them, and they have never been bred in 
captivity. Little has been added to our scant knowledge 
of their behaviour for many years. 

My own interest in the gorilla dates from before the 
First World War, when, as a young planter in the 
Cameroons, I first heard some of these remarkable tales. 
I lived for a total of fifteen years in gorilla country and it 
was a lucky chance of friendship with the truculent 
Mendjim Mey tribe that enabled me to spend four of 
those years in the Mendjim Mey, where gorillas literally 
were my neighbours, and when the all too common com- 
plaint about “those dreadful people next door” had a 
unique significance. During that time I was able to col- 
lect 1 1 5 gorillas for European museums, as well as many 
other rarities. These included the world’s largest frog," 
weighing four pounds six ounces and capable of catching 
and swallowing whole live rats; the rare red colobus 
monkey* and the bongo.* 

^ Rana goliath. 

’ Boocercus eurycerus cooperi. 


’ Colobus ferrugineus preussi. 



Collecting live animals for menageries has caught the 
public imagination. Much of my work was of that kind, 
but the bulk of it lay in collecting dead specimens for 
museums — a less attractive but equally important task. 
Live animals in zoos have a tremendous popular appeal, 
but they are of limited importance to the zoologist. For 
obvious reasons, it is not possible to study the anatomy 
of living animals. Although shooting is distasteful, the 
larger part of zoological research would not be possible 
without it. Zoology, like botany, is still largely concerned 
with classification, and at present the museum is of 
greater value than the zoo. Moreover, there are large 
numbers of animals that cannot be kept in captivity at all, 
and many more that should never be in zoos because 
their peculiar requirements cannot be satisfied. Without 
museums and their preserved specimens, the student, 
confined to his own country, would have no opportunities 
for studying the fauna of the world. 

This book contains much about the gorilla that has not 
been published before, together with a wealth of general 
natural history. But it is not a scientific treatise. I was a 
hunter, not a zoologist, and in the succeeding chapters I 
have tried to tell how I entered my strange profession, of 
the adventures I had, and of the animals, the people and 
the country I came to know so well during the thirty- 
five years I spent in the French Cameroons. 

Native dialogue throughout the book is in pidgin- 
English, and the reader will be curious to know how this 
amusing but expressive language came to be spoken in a 
French possession. The Germans, who ruled this territory 
before the First World War, made every effort to prevent 
their subjects from learning German, regarding it as 
politically dangerous and an encroachment on their 


13 



privacy. On ihe other hand, they would not take the 
trouble to study the many difficult local languages, and 
.since pidgin-English was already the lingua franca of the 
West Coast they adopted that as a convenient medium of 
intercourse. The French accepted this situation, but 
through indolence rather than expediency. Unlike their 
British counterparts, officials of, the French Colonial 
service in the Cameroons did not take the trouble to learn 
the vernaculars. 

Whilst every effort has been made to preserve the 
authenticity of pidgin-English in this book, slight modi- 
fications have had to be made here and there in order 
to make the dialogue intelligible to the English reader, 
for pidgin is fast becoming a distinct language, evolving 
a vocabulary and syntax of its own. 


H 



CHAPTER I 


THE GREAT GORILLA OF AMBAM 

Before me, the jungle fell a^vay to the east and south, 
stretching unbroken across hills and valleys towards the 
Congo and its tributaries. Ebony, mahogany, cottonwood 
and ironwood trees, with brilliantly-coloured orchids 
clinging to their trunks, rose two hundred feet and more 
above the ground. Around them crowded the struggling 
jungle, every plant clutching and choking its neighbour 
in the eternal struggle for light and air. 

Where I stood, at the edge of a native plantation, there 
was a round hole in the undergrowth. I went down on 
hands and knees and crawled inside, finding myself in a 
long, winding tunnel lit by dim green light filtering 
through the leaves above. Swarms of sandflies hurried 
forward to welcome me, plunging in their vicious little 
noses wherever my skin was unprotected. A line of bright 
red ants trickled across my hands, and just above my 
head a chameleon gripped a branch, one eye fixed coldly 
and warily on me, the other roving ceaselessly in search 
of food. It was cool and damp, and the air stank with 
rotting vegetation. Mingled with this was another smell, 
faint yet unmistakable: the rank, musty odour of the 
bull gorilla whose great arms and shoulders had forced 
this passage through the vegetation. 

“You no see 'im, Massa?” asked my guide, Nze, from 
outside. 

“No, and I no savvy how far this hole go. No palaver, 

15 



I go look. Leave your brother and come follow me. And 
look out how you hold dem shotgun.” 

A week earlier, news had reached me at Ebolowa, in 
the French Cameroons, that a solitary bull gorilla was 
living in this vicinity, just north of the little town of 
Ambam, and was playing havoc among the natives’ tiny 
plantations of sugar-cane and bananas. I had waited years 
for this opportunity. No white man I knew in West 
Africa had first-hand experience of gorillas, and while 
I had long been earning my living as a hunter and col- 
lector, circumstances had conspired against my plans to 
find these apes myself. First, an attack of blackwater 
fever and enforced convalescence in England. Then the 
Kaiser’s war, with two dreary months on the Hans 
Woermann, a German prison ship moored up the Wouri 
river, and finally service with the B.E.F. in West Africa, 
until the war there ended in 1916. 

There were a few gorillas in the Ebolowa forest, and I 
had seen them rounded up and killed by the Yaounde 
tribes, but nothing would induce the natives to let me 
take part in a hunt, nor would they sell me the skins and 
skeletons so badly wanted by museums. The people of 
the Ambam district, on the other hand, were not hunters 
and were terrified of gorillas. They were only too glad 
that I should wish to free them of the unwelcomed guest 
who supported himself on their crops and ruined so much 
more than he could eat. 

Though they had little experience as hunters, Nze and 
his brother Wana were eager to help, and they knew the 
locality and the habits of this animal. They told me that 
the gorilla appeared on the plantations every morning. 
Women and solitary men he threatened and chased away. 
If several men appeared he would sometimes make off, 

16 



but more often he stood up, beat his chest and roared at 
them, whereupon they deemed it prudent to leave him to 
breakfast off their bananas. The roar, they said, could be 
heard for miles. 

“He big too much, dis gorilla,” Nze told me, “an’ he 
plenty old. He no get woman gorilla an’ no pickin. No 
other gorilla live for dis bush.” 

I was by no means keen on crawling along that tunnel, 
where it would be difficult to shoot and quite impossible 
to run away. With so little knowledge of gorillas I had 
no idea how the animal would behave if I confronted 
him, and my experience in stalking elephant, buffalo and 
other big game would be of little use with an animal 
whose natural history was entirely different. Would he, I 
wondered, find me before I found him? And would he 
attack me if he did? According to reports I had read, 
which were confirmed by the natives, I could expect to 
be pounced on and torn to pieces. I did not know then 
that the gorilla’s sense of smell is as feeble as man’s. His 
sight and hearing, however, are probably a little better, 
and like all wild animals he can correctly interpret 
sounds that would mean nothing to a man. On the other 
hand, though a gorilla cannot scent an approaching man, 
as an elephant does, a man can certainly scent a gorilla. 
The powerful odour produced by sweat glands in the 
armpits of the male animal is quite distinctive, though it 
is by no means unpleasant. 

“You savvy for true he live for here now?” I asked 
Nze, after we had gone about a hundred yards. We had 
already waited nearly two hours outside the trees before 
I had decided to go in, and there had been no sign of the 
gorilla. 

“Oh yes, Massa. He come for dis farm all time.” Nze 

17 



scratched his head, looking very puzzled. “How he no 
go come to-day?” he asked himself aloud. 

We went forward, sometimes on hands and knees, but 
more often walking in a crouching position, for the 
tunnel was broader and higher now. Presently I found 
some droppings which could only have been from the 
gorilla, but they were stale and I judged them to be at 
least a day old. Then the tunnel opened into a tiny clear- 
ing, and w^e stopped dead as we saw a slight movement 
in the bush on the other side. We stood quite still, 
partly screened by ci'eepcrs hanging from a tall tree. 
Slowly and quietly I released the safety catch of my 
rifle. 

Presently the bush moved again and from behind a 
shrub came, not a gorilla, but a fine, yellow-backed 
duiker, stepping daintily into the clearing. The duiker 
stood staring at us for a moment or two, twitching his 
ears enquiringly in our direction. And then, because we 
moved not a muscle, he decided we were part of the 
scenery. He lowered his head and began to browse calmly 
on the cassava leaves. 

He was a lovely animal, just under three feet tall, with 
short stout horns, a glossy black coat, and a large yellotv 
triangle on his hindquarters. There is a curious thing 
about duiker: in each groin is an opening, a sort of 
pocket of skin, which is of unknown function. I believe, 
however, that the whistling sound they utter when 
alarmed is made by expelling air from these openings. 
These yellow-backed duiker are plentiful in some parts 
of the West African forests, and are often audacious 
enough to invade station clearings by night and planta- 
tions by day in search of food. The flesh is excellent, and 
in a country chronically short of meat, it is much sought 

i8 



after by both Europeans and Africans. The villagers use 
snares and game-pits to trap them. 

Nze, unaccustomed to hunting, had been holding his 
breath, but he could do so no longer, and he now let it 
out in a long whistling ga.sp. At once the duiker uttered 
a warning bark — a loud “phonk” — and dived into the 
bush, scarcely disturbing a leaf. 

“Sorry, Massa,’’ said Nze, deeply distressed. “How you 
no shoot ’im, den we fit chop fine beef to-night?” 

“I come shoot gorilla, no come shoot bush beef,” 1 told 
him. “Suppose gorilla close for here, time he hear gun 
he go run far, far away. Anyhow, we get bad luck. Dem 
gorilla no go come for here to-day.” 

Not only the droppings had convinced me that the 
beast was nowhere about. There were abundant signs 
that he had used this tunnel many times. Broken plants, 
empty seed husks, and chewed fragments of sugar-cane 
gave ample evidence of that, but they were at least twelve 
hours old. Whether, as Nze said, the gorilla had a fairly 
rigid programme of visits, I did not know, but if so some- 
thing had interrupted it that morning. Africans are 
rarely confounded by the unexpected, and Nze, as usual, 
had an answer ready. 

“Dis gorilla no like other one. He be ju-ju gorilla 
an’ he savvy you come for kill him, so he hide him skin.” 

From the plantation outside we heard Wana calling us, 
so we crawled back as fast as we could. With him was a 
village woman, carrying a fat, slumbering baby on her 
broad hips. 

“Dis woman,” Wana announced importantly, “say 
gorilla live for him farm and chop plantain for other side 
for town.” 

She nodded vigorously, but her e)'es were fixed on the 

19 



bright-coloured kerchief I wore about my neck. I asked 
her whether it was true that she had seen the gorilla that 
morning. 

“Yes, yes, N’gi. N’gi (gorilla),” she said, still staring 
covetously at my kerchief. I promised I would give it to 
her if the information was correct, and we set off for her 
plantation. 

This was only a quarter of a mile away, but when we 
got there we found nothing but damaged sugar-cane and 
' banana plants. The gorilla had certainly done a lot of 
damage. More than a dozen banana plants had been torn 
to pieces, but he had eaten only a little of the pith from 
each stem before discarding the entire plant in favour 
of another. The sugar-cane had suffered even worse. 
Enough had been pulled down to keep a village family 
supplied for weeks. I picked up some of the pieces and 
examined them. They could not have been broken that 
morning, for the ends were dry, with no oozing sap. 

“You talk for true you see gorilla dis morning?” I 
asked the woman. 

She admitted now that she had not actually seen the 
animal, but had taken her damaged plants as evidence 
that he was there. 

“I no look ’im for eye, Massa,” she explained, “but I 
savvy, he bin here.” 

“Dis spoil-farm bin done two-day,” I told her. She 
looked embarrassed, and answered in a tiny voice, “f no 
savvy, Massa. I no bin come two-day.” 

I felt like hitting her on the head with her own 
bananas, but she had brought me there with the best of 
intentions, so I took oft the kerchief and handed it over. 
She wound it round her head delightedly and hurried off 
to the village to parade before her envious neighbours. 


20 



By now the sun was high and there was no chance of 
the gorilla turning up at that hour, for they do not move 
about outside the forest except in the early morning. I 
decided to abandon the hunt until next day, and returned 
to the village, where the chief had put a hut at my dis- 
posal. Joseph, my cook, was waiting for me with a meal of 
boiled fowl, yams and pine-apple, which I ate after a 
quick bath in tepid water from a kerosene tin. After- 
wards I relaxed in a deck-chair outside the hut, smoking 
quietly and trying to think out a plan against the gorilla. 

Presently, a man came walking up the village street 
towards me. He was dressed in tattered khaki shorts and 
shirt, which was unusual in a land where men wear 
only the briefest of loin-cloths, and women’s costume is 
just as simple, consisting of either a few leaves or a tiny 
triangle of cloth supported by a string about the waist. 
The gentleman approaching could therefore be con- 
sidered rather overdressed for village life, and he was 
remarkable, too, for his stiff and military carriage. He 
walked straight up to me, came smartly to attention, and 
saluted. 

“Stand at ease, sergeant,’’ I said. 

He stared at me in surprise. “You be Englishman, 
sar?” he asked, for there were very few of us in that 
French colony. 

“Yes, and I’ll bet you are from the Nigerian police,” 
I said. Nowhere else could he have learned such 
discipline. 

“Damn right you are, sar,” he replied, astonished and 
delighted, “but I only corporal, sar, not sergeant.” 

He told me that during the 1914-18 war, when British 
troops came to Ebolowa, he had been recruited as a 
carrier and had so much liked the British that he had 


21 



gone with them to Nigeria, where he afterwards joined 
the police. He was now on leave, and would be returning 
to his post a few days later. 

I remarked on his tattered shorts. “You don’t look 
much like a policeman,” I said. 

“No, sar, but I got fine clothes, sar. These old clothes 
are my play-clothes, sar.” 

"What sort of play?” 

“You not know w^e have big Pra-Pra to-morrow?” 

“For goodness’ sake,” I said, “what’s a Pra-Pra?” 

“Oh, saaaaaar! ” he exclaimed, drawing out the word 
as long as he could, and shaking his head sadly at my 
ignorance. He explained that it was a great wrestling 
tournament betw’een villages, and seemed to be of the 
opinion that anyone who had not witnessed a Pra-Pra 
had missed the very cream of man’s experience. The 
village chief, he went on, had sent him to invite me, and 
would be grateful if I would come and discuss arrange- 
ments both for the Pra-Pra and for the gorilla hunt when 
it was convenient. I told the corporal to say I would be 
along shortly, and tvhen I had finished my pipe I strolled 
off down the village. 

There were about forty huts, with walls of bark and 
roofs of palm-thatch, placed on either side of the bare 
street, some fifty yards wide. Behind them were banana 
and plantain trees backed by tall palms from which the 
people extracted oil and kernels for sale in Ebolow'a. 
Wandering about were small naked children, under- 
sized fowls and a few sheep and goats. Half-way down 
the street stood a crowd of villagers, who opened their 
ranks respectfully as I approached, revealing the chief 
sitting on a deck-chair outside his hut. 

He uttered the greeting "M’Boolul", took ray right 



iiand in his, and grasped my forearm with his left, the 
customary salutation in that part of Africa. Then we noth 
sat down, he on his deck-chair, I on a carved wooden 
stool, decorated with the figures of leopards, crocodiles, 
antelopes and a man and woman. I remember it as one 
of the most uncomfortable seats I have ever encountered. 

The chief drew his soiled and colourful cloth firmly 
round his ample belly and called for miinbo, a liquor 
made from the fermented sap of palm trees. Meanwhile 
the corporal had reappeared. His woolly hair was greased 
and carefully parted at the side and he now wore a clean, 
well-pressed uniform. Again he came to attention and 
saluted, saying "Welcome, sar”, with a broad grin of 
pride and pleasure. I was glad he was there, for 1 had 
only a sketchy knowledge of the local language, and the 
chief did not know much pidgin. 

One of the chief’s women produced an old, heavily- 
scratched glass tankard, evidently a relic of the German 
occupation, and at his direction she filled it with mimbo 
and offered it to me. I never drank while on a hunt, 
rememhering the time when 1 had narrowly escaped 
being savaged by an elephant “the mi irning after’*, so I 
declined the offer as gracefully as pidgin would allow. 

“Me, I no drink,” 1 said. 

“You be Mission Man?” asked the chief sharply, look- 
ing surprised and disappointed. 

“No, no. I be plopper shootman,” I told him, meaning 
that I W'as a professional hunter, “but dis kin’ drink no 
good for man what want shoot beef.” 

“No be so, N’Tang (Master),” he said, “dis mimbo go 
make man ’trong for skin, and dem time he look bad 
beef, him belly no go turn for water.” 

I was about to argue the point when the corporal came 



to my assistance with what was, to the chief at least, a 
much better excuse. He .spoke to him rapidly in the 
vernacular and then turned to me. 

“I told him, .sar, that you be gentleman, sar, and no fit 
drink mimbo. I told him gentleman only drink whisky, 
sar.” 

This appeared to content the chief, and I now men- 
tioned the problem of the gorilla. I suggested that each 
plantation should be watched by groups of two or three 
villagers, including a boy who was to run and fetch me if 
the gorilla appeared. I would wait in the village for news 
and from that central point I could reach any of the 
plantations within fifteen minutes. If the men kept quiet 
and out of sight there was no reason why the beast should 
make off before I arrived. The chief readily agreed to the 
plan — ^but not to start it until Pra-Pra had ended in three 
days’ time. No argument would stir him from this posi- 
tion. Pra-Pra was sacred and inviolate. Until it was over 
the gorilla could do what he liked with their bananas. 

Next morning the drums started soon after the sun was 
up, beginning with a subdued tapping that mingled with 
the excited chatter of the people, and increasing in 
volume and tempo as the drummers warmed to their 
task. The wrestling arena was a space in front of the 
chief’s hut, where the earth had been loosened and then 
beaten into a fine powder. Competitors from other vil- 
lages were already arriving, bringing with them their 
wives, children, and older relatives. The little street was 
packed to suffocation and there was a general air of 
festivity and bubbling good humour. Women shouted 
gossip at each other, ignoring the children who bawled 
for their attention or the babies who hungrily sought 
their breasts. Grey-haired old men squatted in the shade, 

H 



telling of bygone Pras-Pras in which they had astonished 
the countryside with great feats of strength. Young men, 
in threes and fours, oiled each others’ gleaming backs 
and legs or pranced about doing hand-stands to loosen 
their tough, lean limbs. 

It xvas surprising that the chief’s cough, announcing 
his arrival, should have been heard above this racket, but 
then it was an important cough, and everyone had been 
waiting for it. A respectful hush fell instantly over the 
gathering as he strode majestically from his hut, followed 
by his eight wives. Painful memories of the ornamental 
stool had prompted me to bring my own deck-chair, and 
with a truly regal wave of his hand he invited me to set 
this up beside him. When we had both settled ourselves 
comfortably he clapped his hands for Pra-Pra to begin. 

The men now formed about us in a circle, squatting 
on the ground, while the women and girls stood behind 
them. Another gesture from the chief, and the drums 
broke out into a terrible din, sending the crows and horn- 
bills in nearby trees into frenzied cackles of alarm. One 
of the young wrestlers, eager to prove himself, jumped 
into the arena and walked round, his outstretched right 
hand inviting a challenger. He soon found one and the 
first bout began. 

Pras-Pras take place only in the Ebolowa district of the 
Cameroons, and only once again, some years later, was I 
lucky enough to attend one. The bout opens, without 
preliminary dodging and sparring, by each contestant 
putting his left arm round the other’s waist, with his 
hand in the small of the back. As in European wrestling, 
the bout is won when both shoulders of an opponent are 
forced simultaneously into contact with the ground. The 
two lads I was watching clasped each other in the 


25 



approved fashion and shuffled about, seeking a hold with 
their free arms. The challenger moved first, making a 
clever feint with his arm, while he tripped his opponent 
and fell with him heavily to the ground. Lying there they 
whipped into a clinch with the speed and vigour of 
pythons, so that it was difficult to identify individual 
arms and legs. The challenger was on top, putting all the 
power of his fresh young limbs into the struggle. Muscles 
strained, sinews cracked; there were grunts and groans. 
Then his opponent’s resistance crumpled and both 
shoulders submitted themselves squarely to the ground. 
When the loser rose there was a coating of dust across his 
back as visible proof of his defeat. The victor rubbed his 
hands down his sturdy thighs, grinned modestly but 
proudly in my direction, and ran round the circle again, 
calling for a fresh opponent. 

My corporal rose and accepted him. He wore neither 
his clean uniform nor his old “play-clothes”, but only a 
simple strip of cloth tied tightly to his waist-cord. He 
had a magnificent physique: a broad, hard-muscled back, 
narrow hips and long, brawny legs. I was not surprised 
when he upheld the honour both of his village and of the 
Nigerian police by defeating the young challenger and 
three other stalwart opponents in rapid succession. 

For a long time afterwards he could find no one else to 
take him on, but presently a big man who had been squat- 
ting silently near me, got up and walked towards him, 
The crowd howled their approval as the two men clasped 
each other and carefully tested their strength with ex- 
perimental holds. For a moment or two they looked as if 
they were about to waltz, until the corporal, moving like 
a flash, locked the big man’s arms and neck in a hold 
that would have worried a rhinoceros. They stood sway- 

26 



iiig and gasping, with the sweat trickling down their 
shining bodies, and then the big man gave a tremendous 
heave. He moved so quickly that I could not see how it 
was done, but the corporal was off his feet, losing his hold 
and falling heavily to the ground. He fell skilfully on 
one shoulder, turned somersault and was up again in an 
instant. They re-engaged, and again there was a stale- 
mate as their trembling limbs struggled for mastery. 
Neither side gave way, and at last, by silent and mutual 
consent, they parted and sat down for a rest. 

It was getting on for one o’clock, so I slipped away for 
lunch, which I had to get myself, for Joseph was glued to 
the ringside and I had not the heart to tear him away. 
When I returned the two men were still at it, though I 
learned that they had rested several times during my 
absence. The chief now intervened to announce a draw, 
and the wrestlers, delighted with each other as only well- 
matched men can be, retired to be fussed over and 
appiaucted by their families. 

The wrestling continued during the afternoon and all 
the next day. On the third and final day there was a 
change when elderly women took the place of men in the 
arena. To my surprise they wrestled ably and the bouts 
lasted longer. In most cases they fought with dignity and 
good humour, but two or three of them lost their tempers 
and began scratching and pulling hair. They were 
quickly parted by the men and ten minutes later were 
all smiles again. I never managed to discover which 
village won the Pra-Pra, though I tried hard. The final 
situation was amazingly confused, but the people seemed 
content and went off to their homes well pleased with the 
whole affair. 

I waited yet another day, .so that the villagers could 

37 



recover from the excitement of the Pra-Pra, and (illed in 
some of the time overhauling ray guns. It was wise to 
clean and oil them every day, since they would quickly 
deteriorate in that humid climate. Shotguns were vulner- 
able to another and more peculiar danger. Mason-flies, 
so-called from the rock-hard nests they build, abound in 
West Africa, and are attracted to any kind of deep hole. 
They build rapidly, and a shotgun, laid aside for a day 
or two, can get choked with a nest as solid as concrete. 
It might be thought that this could not go unobserved, 
yet 1 know of more than one accident that occurred 
because a careless sportsman tried to use a gun in that 
condition, and it burst when fired. 

My own shotgun was a two-barrelled twelve-bore. 
Loaded with buckshot, it could be depended on to stop a 
charging leopard, lion or gorilla at close range. For big 
game I used a g-mm. Mauser, with a Mannlicher of the 
same calibre in reserve. The Mauser was highly accurate 
and could bring down elephant, rhino or buffalo at up to 
three hundred yards. Many hunters use heavy, double- 
barrelled elephant guns, -400, -450, or even larger, but it 
is cleaner and more effective to place a comparatively 
small bullet in a vital spot. For monkeys, small antelope 
and other lesser game 1 kept a small ss rifle, and in later 
years I carried a -45 revolver when after gorillas in heavy 
forest. 

Meanwhile, the gorilla had been having a wonderful 
time in the plantations, where he found food so much 
more conveniently placed and plentiful than in the forest. 
Before dawn, on the day appointed, I had my little groups 
of men in position on the plantations, concealed at some 
distance from every game trail or tunnel I thought the 
gorilla might use. Satisfied that they understood their 

5J8 



instructions, I returned to wait in the village, where 
Joseph kept me supplied with good black coffee, for the 
jungle is a cold and damp place in the early morning. 
Nothing happened. Towards nine o’clock, with the sun 
soaring high and hot above the palm fronds, the men 
came drifting back looking worried and frustrated. The 
gorilla had not appeared, and this, they believed, was 
because he knew what we were up to and had made him- 
self scarce. I thought it much more likely that he had 
spotted the waiting men and had become suspicious, but 
even this guess was wrong. 

Before lunch-time a runner reached me from a village 
over five miles away with news that the gorilla had 
turned up there. A woman who intended to gather 
plantains had almost walked into him, and when she 
fled, screaming, he chased her and wounded her with his 
great nails. He had not, however, followed up the attack, 
and the woman returned to her home with a lacerated 
back. When I got to the village, as I did with all speed, 
I found that, as usual, the facts had been exaggerated. 
The woman looked badly shaken and she insisted that she 
had been chased by the animal, but she had certainly 
not been hurt. I decided to go at once to her planta- 
tion, but instead of using the regular paths, I pushed 
straight through the forest in the hope of finding either 
the gorilla or at least a recent track which I could 
follow up. 

During the past few days, Nze had been given detailed 
theoretical lessons in hunting by that incorrigible old 
humbug, my cook Joseph, and he now insisted on leading 
the way. Whenever he saw, or thought he saw, a move- 
ment in the undergrowth, he ducked down, as native 
trackers are trained to do, so that in an emergency the 

«9 



hunter can fire over their heads. On wider trails, made 
by elephant or buffalo, the tracker can sometimes slip to 
one side. I never liked this positioning of hunter and 
tracker, for it had once involved a close friend of 
mine, whom I shall call Gilbert, in an appalling 
accident. 

Gilbert was a hunter and trader who had a perfect 
wonder of a tracker named Esumba. Once or ttvice. when 
his master was on holiday in Europe, I was able to employ 
this man myself, and I never ceased to marvel at his 
extraordinary powers. He could follow any kind of game 
over even the hardest ground, often when the trail was 
several days old. Every twig and blade of grass yielded 
a message to him. He would handle a leaf as though if 
were fragile porcelain, and by comparing the amount of 
dew on it with that on neighbouring leaves, judge hotv 
long ago it had been disturbed by a pa.ssing animal. 
Gilbert himself was an excellent hunter and a dead shot; 
a great bond of friendship and mutual understanding 
had grown up between the two men, and together they 
made the perfect hunting team. 

Esumba’s end was tragic. He and Gilbert had been 
tracking a big tusker through elephant grass for some 
days, but the animal was old and wary and they could 
not get within range. At last, by exercising their skill 
to the utmost, they came upon it feeding quietly in a 
clearing, Esumba indicated silently that a shot might be 
tried, and then bobbed down out of the way. Gilbert 
raised his heavy -400 elephant gun, took aim carefully, 
and squeezed the trigger. At that instant Esumba sprang 
to his feet, right in front of the muzzle, and most of his 
head was blown off. 

Why he should have moved at all at that last, fatal 

30 



moment will always be a mystery. Gilbert was broken- 
hearted and never hunted again. When he got back to 
Yaounde he sold all his rifles and afterwards he could not 
bear even to look at a gun. 

I was glad, therefore, when we came out on to the plan- 
tation without having encountered anything more for- 
midable than a pair of flying squirrels, which chattered 
angrily at us from a tall tree. The damaged plantains 
were all fresh, and on the tilled soil around them were the 
tracks of the gorilla. There was one perfect impression 
of his foot, thirteen inches long and nine inches wide, 
showing the widely-separated big toe. Gorillas walk on 
the fiat of the hind feet and on the knuckles of the hands, 
which are fat and heavily calloused, and there were 
abundant knuckle marks in the soft earth. I could not 
hope to track the animal by these signs, however, for a 
soft-footed beast leaves no impression on the leafy forest 
floor. There was a newly-made gorilla tunnel near at 
hand, and I decided to sit within range of it early next 
morning. Meanwhile, a hut was again put at my disposal 
in the village. 

A thin strip of bush, projecting a few yards from the 
forest edge, offered ideal cover, and long before dawn 
Nze and I were crouching there in the damp, with the 
mist swirling about us. Soon, the forest began to wake 
up. Mona monkeys quarrelled noisily over their break- 
fast, parrots squawked and stretched their vivid wings, 
and in the distance we could hear the cracked voices of 
the village roosters. 

We watched the entrance to the tunnel in that dim 
light until our eyes ached. Once I thought I saw a move- 
ment just inside, and I brought up my rifle, but nothing 
emerged. When we had begun to think that we were out 


31 



of luck again, I spotted out of the corner of my eye a 
sudden disturbance in the bush on the far side of the 
plantation, where there was no game track or tunnel. I 
took out my binoculars and examined the spot. There 
was certainly something there, but for a moment or two 
I could not see what it was. Then two great hands parted 
the foliage, a head leaned out between them, looked 
suspiciously around, and the gorilla stepped out into the 
open. 

He was certainly an enormous beast, far bigger than 
the few I had previously seen in the Ebolowa forest. His 
long, shaggy coat was so grizzled with age that from where 
we were it looked almost white. This colour is common 
in elderly males and may look pure white at a distance 
if struck by a shaft of sunlight, giving rise to reports, 
even from reputable zoologists, of the occurrence of 
“white” gorillas. He stood for a while on all fours, with 
his huge shoulders hunched forward and his tall, crested 
head turning enquiringly from side to side. Then, to 
make sure he was alone, he reared up on his hind legs 
and looked about him. 

Even at that distance I could see that he was taller than 
an average man and twice as broad as my strapping 
corporal friend. He seemed satisfied that he was safe, for 
after a close scrutiny of the plantation, he dropped down 
again, walked forward and began stripping away the 
leaves of plantain, to reach its succulent pith. Then he 
sat on his bottom, crossed his bandy legs and began 
munching it. He looked for all the world like an old 
gentleman erijoying an apple. 

Although he was well within range I could not risk 
a shot, for there was a lot of vegetation between us. If 
a bullet nicks the stem of a plant it can be given just 

32 




FRED MERFIELD 


Phdto Harry Miller, I ^ it 






Couilesy Pcwel!~Colto)j Mmeiiin 

A tiuly magnificent bull gorilla. N’Denge the gun-bearerj seen 
kneeling beside him, was by no means a small man 



sufficient deflection to miss the target. Moreover, I wanted 
to study the gorilla’s behaviour, for this was my first 
opportunity of doing so, and I began working ray way, 
as silently as I could, along the edge of the forest towards 
him. Whenever he looked up I froze against a back- 
ground of leaves, and he did not see me. At last I got to 
within one hundred and fifty yards and found an out- 
lying bush, behind which I could hide and watch him. 
I needed both hands to steady the binoculars, so I laid 
my rifle on the ground. It was bad luck that the rifle 
should have caught in the binoculars, causing them to 
rattle faintly against the muzzle. At once the gorilla 
looked up, stared straight in my direction and then 
crashed back into the forest out of sight, coughing 
angrily. There was no need now for concealment. Calling 
Nze to follow me, I ran aa-oss and with more foolishness 
than courage burst into the undergrowth where the 
gorilla had gone. Once inside the trees caution prevailed, 
and I stopped to look around. 

At this point the forest was thinner than I had sup- 
posed, perhaps because of shallow soil beneath. The 
gorilla had gone straight through, pushing saplings and 
bushes aside in his haste. Nze came up behind and looked 
at me expectantly. I hated the idea of going any further, 
for I imagined that the gorilla might be waiting for me 
in the nearest cover, as a buffalo will, and his ability to 
launch a surprise attack at a few yards range seemed to 
put the whole situation in his favour. Nze and I looked at 
each other. 

"Carry on, Nze,’’ I said firmly. “We must follow him. 
We no fit leave him go dis time. You go before, and 
hold dem shotgun.” 

Nze was no fool. “Yes, yes, Massa, we follow him,” 
ocp/ggi — gg 



he agreed, “but you no want me for show you, now we 
near him. You go before, den you fit shoot him one 
time.” 

There was nothing for it but to go forward. Following 
the track was at first an easy matter, for the gorilla had 
broken through everything in his path, but presently it 
joined an old gorilla tunnel in thick jungle, and once 
again we had to proceed in a crouching position. After 
about two hundred yards we came to three subsidiary 
tunnels, beyond which was a narrow game trail. The 
gorilla could have taken one of these routes, and though 
there were signs that something had just passed along the 
game trail, they might easily have been made by a duiker 
or a bushbuck. There were no marks at the entrance to 
the tunnels, so I decided in favour of the game trail, 
half hoping all the time that he was not there, for I still 
preferred to face him in the open. We pushed along, 
sometimes bending to avoid hanging lianas or climbing 
over fallen trees, until we came to a stream, winding 
away through the trees. In the soft mud at its edge, 
slowly filling with water, were deep knuckle marks of the 
gorilla. In later years I learned that gorillas will never 
cross water, even streams that are only a few yards wide. 
In the present case, the animal had gone along the 
bank, 

“Look, Nze, he follow side for water. Some time we 
fit look him before he turn back for bush.” 

Further along we found more tracks and I fully ex- 
pected to see the gorilla round any of the bends, but I 
suddenly lost the trail altogether. I went back, picked up 
the tracks again and found that the gorilla had turned off 
into the forest, where the thin canes of a plant called 
Aframomum danielli, which has no popular English 

34 



name, had given him an easy passage and had closed back 
smoothly without appearing to have been disturbed. The 
red fruit, shoots and sour pith of this plant provide 
gorillas with their staple food. Eagerness and excitement 
had quite banished my nervousness now, and I slipped 
through the canes after him. We had gone only a few 
yards when Nze poked me in the back, and when I looked 
round he sniffed to show me that he could smell the 
gorilla. My less sensitive nostrils picked up the scent 
further on. It was slight at first but suddenly became very 
heavy. We were very near the animal, but I could not 
hear or see him. 

In dense forest of this kind, where visibility is restricted 
to a few yards and sometimes to a few feet, there is a trick 
enabling a hunter to see a good deal further. The first 
few inches of plant stems are bare of leaves, and by lying 
flat it is possible to see as far as twenty-five yards through 
them. I have often spotted elephant by this means, where 
otherwise they would not have been visible at all. Making 
as little noise as possible, I therefore first knelt and then 
lay down on the ground, and looked through the stems. 
About five or six yards away I could see something black, 
and I stared for fully half a minute before it dawned on 
me that I was looking at the feet of the gorilla. 

He made for me as I started to rise, and when I looked 
up he was towering above me, stretching his great hairy 
arms above his head. He opened his mouth, showing 
long, yellow, canine teeth, and let out the most terrible 
scream I had ever heard as he brought his arms crashing 
downwards, sweeping the canes with them, and striking 
me heavily on my left side as I flung myself out of the 
way. I pulled the trigger of my rifle at the same time, 
with no attempt at taking aim. An agonizing pain shot 

35 



through my leg, and then he rushed past and disappeared 
among the undergrowth. 

When I got up I found my leg was so stiff and shot 
with pain that I could hardly use it. Blood flowed freely 
from a gash across my thigh, where the gorilla’s nails had 
sliced through skin and flesh. I took off my kerchief and 
bound it up as well as I could, shouting for Nze at the 
same time. At first there was no sign of him, and I could 
hear nothing but the parrots and a troop of chattering 
monkeys somewhere among the trees. When I heard a 
quiet rustle in the bush I thought the gorilla had come 
back and slid another cartridge into my rifle. But it was 
Nze at last. His head poked through the leaves and he 
stared at me with bulging eyes. 

"Where the devil have you been?” I demanded, for- 
getting my pidgin. "I’ve been shouting for you for 
hours.” 

"Yes, Massa, I hear you, but I live up for stick (tree) 
and fear dem gorilla bin catch you.” 

“Well he done go, but I no fit walk. My leg hurt me 
too much. Which side you put dem shotgun?” 

“I leave him for ground, dem time I go for stick up,” 
Nze answered meekly, looking very ashamed of himself. 

“Well, go get him again and make quick. Small time 
I no fit walk.” 

With Nze’s help I limped, hopped and crawled back 
to the village, choosing the easiest routes, no matter how 
devious they seemed, and hoping that the gorilla would 
have chosen some other way to wherever he wanted to 
go. We arrived safely, and with Joseph’s help I stripped 
off my blood-soaked pants and examined my injuries. I 
had a deep flesh wound across the thigh, but it was not as 
serious as I had thought, for nothing vital had been 

36 



severed. The rest of the leg, however, was badly bruised 
down to the calf and was very sore. Joseph swabbed the 
cut with iodine and bound it up with clean bandage from 
my first-aid kit. After-svards I lay down to rest, with a glass 
of whisky beside me. 

Meanwhile the village was in a turmoil. According to 
Joseph, all sorts of stories were being circulated; the 
gorilla was as big as an elephant and had torn off one of 
my legs, said some; the white man has made him very 
angry and now he will take revenge on us all, killing us 
and ruining our crops, said others. I did my best to stop 
these rumours, calling in the village headman and lectur- 
ing him soundly. But the damage was done, and for the 
next few days the women would not leave the village. 
This upset the village economy, for no man would dream 
of doing agricultural work. Therefore, when the stiffness 
had left my leg and the wound had begun to heal I called 
Joseph and told him to fetch Nze, so that we could try 
again for the gorilla. 

Joseph’s eyes popped. “You sick for head, Massa? 
You no know this ju-ju gorilla? Only ju-ju gorilla go 
catch white man. Suppose you be black man, you go 
die.” 

I told him not to talk nonsense and sent him off. He 
returned half an hour later to say that Nze was not to be 
found, and no one else in the village would come with 
me. I remembered the corporal and sent a runner off 
to fetch him, but he had returned to his post. I decided 
to go alone, but before I left the hut a very elderly man 
turned up and said he was ready to come with me. Joseph 
was shocked. 

“Better you no go with him, Massa. Dis ol’ man crazy. 
He no savvy bush.” 


37 



I was inclined to agree with Joseph, but the old man 
was better than no one, and together we set off. If we 
had been going to our executions the villagers could not 
have been more upset. The men stood staring and look- 
ing very frightened, while the women mourned as they 
do at funerals, blowing through their hands and crying 
the lament that sounds like “Wey, wey, wey". As we 
reached the end of the street the headman came run- 
ning up. He grasped me by the arm and tried to turn 
me back, saying “Massa no go, we no want you for die”. 
If I did get killed there would be an official enquiry, with 
corrupt native soldiers coming to frighten and bully the 
villagers, and I guessed the headman was more concerned 
about that than for my sake. I didn't want ‘‘for die” 
either, but I didn’t think it very likely, so I shook him off 
angrily and went on. 

At the plantation we found a trail of my own blood, 
and the old man pushed ahead of me into the bush with 
surprising agility and confidence. We reached the place 
where I had been attacked and found that there was a 
second trad of blood leading off in another direction. I 
released the safety-catch of my shotgun and pointing it 
straight in front of me followed the new trail, intending 
to blow the gorilla to bits if he appeared again, but before 
we had gone twenty yards we found him lying flat on his 
back, stone dead. 

When he attacked me I had fired my rifle from the hip, 
with no time to take aim, and the possibility that I had hit 
him at all was so remote that it had not even crossed my 
mind. The heavy, soft-nosed bullet, however, had caught 
him in the side of the neck, flattening out as it did so, 
and smashing its way through the jugular vein. He must 
have died on his feet a minute or two after hitting me, 

38 



which was why I had not heard him moving about after- 
wards. The carcase had already received the attention of 
ants and other insects, and decomposition was advanced, 
but I estimated his weight conservatively as between 
forty-one and forty-two stone. The abdomen was enor- 
mously extended, partly by a great quantity of vegetable 
matter in the intestines and partly by putrefaction. There 
was a very high crest — a bony ridge rising across the back 
of the skull, joined by another from the centre of the fore- 
head and packed between with flesh. These crests are 
found only on adult male gorillas and, on a smaller scale, 
on the adult male, black-faced chimpanzee. No one 
knows whether they serve any purpose. The short legs, 
long arms and hands twice the width and thickness of my 
own, were other features of the gorilla I was able to 
examine closely for the first time. 

My gorilla’s skin was already spoiled, but I secured the 
skeleton and sent it, eventually, to the University of 
Texas, U.S.A., where the zoologists estimated that the 
animal had stood just over six feet tall in life. It was 
really a remarkable case of beginner’s luck, for this was 
the largest gorilla I ever found. Only once again was I 
knocked down by a gorilla. 

While I was examining the dead animal, I sent the old 
man back to the village. He returned with Joseph, a 
crestfallen Nze, and a crowd of young men. We tied the 
gorilla to saplings and with four men at each end carried 
him back to the village, where the wmmen stood around 
laughing and poking fun at the monster. Joseph was 
explaining that had he not been so busy, he, instead of the 
old man, would have taken me into the forest. He tapped 
poor Nze importantly on the chest. 

“I no tell you my Massa be big shootman?” he asked 


39 



triumphantly. “Suppose I no look out for Massa and 
cook him fine chop, me, I go show him for bush.’’ 

A week later I was back at Ebolowa. I had found only 
one gorilla at Ambam, and there were few in the Ebolowa 
district, yet there must be regions where they were more 
plentiful and I was now more determined than ever to 
find them. 


40 



CHAPTER II 


THE MAKA CANNIBALS 

The exact distribution of gorillas is still uncertain, for 
there are vast regions of mountainous, virgin forest 
which have been only superficially explored. In my 
early days as a gorilla hunter, I had nothing to guide 
me but vague reports from traders and natives, but at 
least they confirmed my belief that there were places 
where gorillas were relatively abundant. With no very 
clear ideas in mind, I locked up my house in Ebolowa 
and rode to Sengmelima, fifty miles further east, where 
I sought the advice of Lieutenant Pennant, the District 
Officer, who was an old friend of mine. 

“Try the country due east,” he suggested. "1 don’t 
know it very well, but the forest extends from here right 
across to the Congo and beyond. There are no European 
plantations and no maps that you can depend on, but 
provided you stay this side of the Dja river you’ll be all 
right.” 

“What’s wrong with the other side of the river?” 

“Good God, man, don’t go there. That’s Maka country, 
with as wild and woolly a lot of savages as you’ll find 
anywhere in the world. They’re the most die-hard bunch 
of cannibals we’ve got in the Cameroons. The Germans 
tried to stop their cannibalism, but they only drove it 
under cover, though they made it possible for a few 
traders to live there for a while. Then the war started and 
all control over them broke do-, i. Now they are as bad as 

OCP/991 — B* 


41 



ever. You understand,” he added diplomatically, “that 
we French have only just taken over the administration 
and it will be a long time before we get things straight- 
ened out and put a stop to cannibalism. My own control 
ends at the Dja river, and we are not likely to get beyond 
it for years yet.” 

Earlier, I had had a word with George Latimer Bates, 
another close friend, who lived at Betche. Bates was an 
ornithologist and a world authority on the birds of West 
Africa. He, too, warned me against the Makas, but only 
casually, for he could think of nothing but the prospect 
of my returning with new birds for his wonderful collec- 
tion. He was particularly anxious that I should search 
for the black guinea fowl, a rarity that existed, so far as 
he knew, in only a few coastal regions. If I found any 
I was to send them in wicker baskets with all speed, and if 
I could not take them alive their skins would at least 
confirm their existence in the interior. I promised I would 
do my best, but as it happened I was lucky to return with 
my own skin in one piece. 

The next few days were spent in making preparations. 
I had two horses : Corney, a tough, thick-set native pony, 
and Charley, a half-bred European three-year-old I had 
broken and trained myself. Charley was the best horse 
I ever had, a fine jumper and a great pet. He was ex- 
cellent for forest work and would not flinch if I fired from 
his back. When in later years I stayed at the hotel in 
Yaounde, he would follow me into the bar for a bottle 
of beer, which he loved. He knew all my friends, had 
many more of his own, and was immensely popular all 
round, 

Joseph my cook, six carriers, and Johnny, a stout- 
hearted horse-boy, made up y human retinue. Jo hnn y 

4n 



had served in the Maka country under Major Dominick, 
a German officer who was everywhere renowned for his 
ruthlessness and energy in dealing with rebellious tribes. 
I had heard a great deal about this man. The natives 
believed he had a powerful ju-ju, protecting him from 
their spears, and many stories were told of his miraculous 
escapes from death. Naughty children were warned that 
Major Dominick would come for them if they did not 
mend their ways, and for years after his deatli the natives 
were always careful to salute when passing his statues, 
one at Yaounde and another at Kribi. 

With this little expedition I spent a fortnight explor- 
ing the hilly forests between Sengmelima and the Dja 
river without finding a trace of gorillas. There were 
chimpanzees, monkeys of many species, bushbuck, 
duiker, pottos, bushbabies, squirrels, civet cats, genets, 
leopards, and many other animals, but no gorillas. 
Neither could I find the black guinea fowl that Bates was 
so keen about. Disappointed, I rested for a few days on 
the bank of the Dja river, looking across and wondering 
if there were gorillas on the other side. I had a word with 
the village chief. 

“You savvy dem big, big monkey live for dis bush 
other side?” I asked. 

“Yes, Massa, I hear plenty live, but you no fit go 
there.” 

“Dem Maka people be plopper bad for true?” 

“Dey be bad people too much, sar. Long time pass, 
dey cross dem water an’ make war. Dey kill we, and 
catch we small boy for chop. Dey fear for come now, 
dey fear whiteman palaver, but I hear dey still chop man. 
Better you no go there, Massa.” 

I wondered whether this was really true. After all, I 


43 



had already been wandering about the Cameroons for 
nearly ten years, and I had mixed with a lot of pretty 
tough people, but I had never got into difficulties with 
them. I knew several native languages, and I found that 
a little tact, fairness and a touch of humour were sufficient 
to establish the most friendly relations with any of the 
tribes. Were the Makas, then, so very different? I doubted 
it. Tall tales are as common among Europeans as among 
natives in Africa, and there was every likelihood that 
the Makas were victims of the usual exaggeration. I told 
my men that we would cross the river next morning, and 
they received the news in silence. I tried to encourage 
them, but their faces were long and they refused to 
answer me. 

Excitement kept me from sleep for hours that night, 
but at last I dropped off. I awoke with a start and an 
immediate feeling that something was wrong, for it was 
broad daylight and Joseph should have woken me for 
breakfast long ago. I pulled on my shirt and trousers 
and went outside. Johnny, my horse-boy, was sitting 
alone beside the fire. 

“Hallo, Johnny, what’s the matter? Which side all 
dem carrier gone? How Joseph leave me sleep past 
mark?” 

Johnny looked at me sorrowfully. “Dey all done go, 
Massa,” he said. 

“How do you mean ‘All done go?”’ 

“Dey all run for night, Massa. Dey fear you go take 
dem other side and dey make chop for Maka people.” 

To be deserted by one’s carriers is a blow at the best 
of times, but perversely it made me even more deter- 
mined to carry on and enter the Maka country. I looked 
at Johnny. 


44 



“And you, Johnny? You go follow me?” 

“Me, I fit follow Massa any place,” he answered simply. 

“But why? I no savvy why you no bin run with all 
dem other people.” 

For the first time he looked cross. “Me run away?” 
he asked scornfully. “How I fit run? I no tell you I bin 
sergeant for German time? I no do fear dis kin’ people.” 
And he jerked his thumb contemptuously in the direc- 
tion of the Makas. 

Together we made breakfast, and then put our minds 
to the problem of carrying our equipment. Much of it 
could be left in the village, where it would be quite safe 
until we returned, and the rest could be carried on the 
horses. After a great deal of trouble we got the villagers 
to take us across the river in their canoes, while the 
horses, held by their bridles, swam alongside. When we 
got out of the canoes on the far bank the paddlers flung 
our baggage after us and departed so hurriedly and with 
so little dignity that Johnny and I burst out laughing. 

“Look, Massa, they run all same foolish woman,” cried 
Johnny. 

Stuffing the saddlebags and our pockets with cartridges, 
I gave Johnny a rifle and the shotgun to carry, taking the 
other rifle myself. We strapped the equipment on the 
horses and led them along the bank until a game trail 
gave us access to the forest. After walking for about a 
mile and seeing no sign of human habitation, we came to 
a bare rocky barrier rising steeply for perhaps two 
hundred feet. Getting to the top was difficult, for the 
horses kept stumbling and their loads were constantly 
slipping from the saddles, which were not designed for 
packs. Eventually we unburdened them, led them to the 
top and made several return journeys to bring up the 

45 



equipment ourselves. It was hard, hot work, but well 
worth it, for the top of the escarpment afforded us a mag- 
nificent view of the country ahead. 

We were looking down on the tops of trees that 
stretched away in many shades of green as far as we could 
see. Here and there the Flame of the Forest blossomed out 
in great scarlet patches. Parrots, touracos, and other 
gaudy birds, croaked and quarrelled in the tree-tops. 
Monkeys of several kinds peered through the leaves at us 
as we descended, and then hurried off to warn their 
families. In the distance we could hear a troop of chim- 
panzees working themselves up into hysterics, as they are 
always doing over some domestic trifle. 

For four hours we marched along a difficult trail, 
fording small streams and stopping at intervals to slash 
away hanging branches and lianas so that the horses could 
get through. Then abruptly we came to a village. It 
was much like any other West African village: a huddle 
of mud and thatch huts, with bare, hard earth between 
and the jungle pressing in around them : but although 
we shouted and searched everywhere, there was not a soul 
to be seen. It often happens that all the men of a village 
go off on a hunting trip, but they always leave their 
women and children behind. Smouldering fires and pots 
containing half-cooked food showed that the villagers 
had left hurriedly just before we arrived, but though we 
looked in every hut, a brace of scraggy fowls was the only 
sign of life we found. 

All along I had been on the alert, and though I did not 
expect to make an easy conquest of the Makas I had 
banked on a palaver of some sort. But wit and charm 
are not much good if your savage refuses to come near 
you. Johnny, too, was anxious, 

46 



“Massa, this be bad palaver. All man run for hush; 
all women run too.” 

We sat down and talked things over. Turning back was 
out of the question, for neither of us was willing to admit 
defeat. Moreover, it would have taken another four or 
five hours to reach the river and it would be dark long 
before then. If the Makas really wanted to kill us — and 
I had still to be convinced of that — ^what better chance 
could they have than to follow and ambush us in the 
forest? We decided to stay. 

Picking a big sturdy hut, which must have been built 
by one of the German traders, we put the horses inside 
and set about cutting grass for them from the edge of the 
forest. There was a little water in some of the huts, but 
no more near at hand. Although every village is sited 
near a stream I did not care to look for it just then. 
Johnny, reconnoitring around the village, reported that 
he had seen Makas hiding in the bush, and they had 
disappeared when he tried to speak to them. I had no 
wish to get a spear in my side before I could open my 
mouth, so I stayed where I was. 

“This people be plopper bad,” said Johnny anxiously. 
"Dey want make war for we.” 

We caught one of the fowls, wrung its neck and made 
a meal of it. When darkness fell the Makas were still 
absent, so we joined the horses inside the hut, blocked up 
the door, checked our rifles and sat there smoking, wait- 
ing for something to happen. 

By now Johnny was convinced that we were to be 
attacked. If only Major Dominick had been there, he 
kept saying, they would not dare to touch us. For three 
or four hours there was silence, save for the usual forest 
sounds, and then towards midnight a single drum clat- 

47 



tered into life outside in the bush. It was answered by 
another from the opposite direction and then a third and 
a fourth, until there seemed to be scores of them banging 
away all round us. We looked out at the deserted, moonlit 
village, Johnny through a crack in the back wall, I 
through another in the door. The drums got noisier and 
noisier and then suddenly a crowd of Makas burst out 
from the shadows and began dancing round our hut, 
shrieking, howling and waving their spears. Spears began 
falling on the roof, but the walls were of iron-hard mud, 
eighteen inches thick, fortified against just such an attack 
by its last European tenant, and there was no fear of them 
breaking through that. 

My first idea was that we should open the door and 
rush out, firing as fast as we could, but Johnny, who 
knew their tactics, thought that this was just what they 
hoped we would do. We could never have got through 
them alive, and while we would certainly have killed a 
few of them before we went down ourselves, so much the 
better from the Maka point of view, since that would 
mean more meat for the pot. They were by no means 
above eating each other. Our best chance, it seemed, was 
to stay in the hut, where we could defend the narrow 
doorway without difficulty. Johnny did not think there 
was much chance of their setting fire to the thatch, 
because of the danger to the other huts close by and to 
the whole village. In any case, he said, they preferred 
their meat boiled to roasted, and they were much more 
likely to try and starve or frighten us out. 

While the din outside went on, we put our few boxes 
and blankets on top of my camp-bed and lay down under- 
neath it, so that we would have some measure of protec- 
tion against spears that might come straight through the 

48 



roof. As Johnny predicted, they did not fire the hut, and 
though spears kept thudding on the door, no attempt was 
made to force it. The horses behaved very well. They 
whinnied and shied a bit when the noise began, but after- 
wards stood quietly nuzzling each other against the wall, 
only starting a little when a spear landed on the roof near 
them with a loud “whump”. 

Africans can keep up their frenzied dances hour after 
hour, with no sign of fatigue, and the Makas were no 
exception. There were a few lulls, when they withdrew 
to chatter among themselves, and then the drums began 
again and out they came howling, waving their spears 
and making great leaps into the air as they danced round 
the hut. 

An hour before dawn they disappeared altogether. We 
lay listening, half dead with tiredness, but we could hear 
no more of them. When it was light we opened the door 
and with rifles ready walked slowly towards the forest. 
We kept in the shelter of the huts as long as we could, 
pressing ourselves against the walls, but when we reached 
the last one we were met with a shower of arrows. Luckily 
we were just out of range, and they fell harmlessly in the 
ground a few yards in front of us. When we made as if 
to walk forward again there came a second volley, but this 
time we were ready for them and we both fired rapidly 
at the dark skins we spotted moving among the bushes, 
I saw a Maka rear up from behind a shrub and fall back- 
wards, clutching at his chest. He screamed and thrashed 
about for a bit and then was suddenly still. Johnny 
claimed two, but from the row they made you might have 
thought it half a dozen. 

There was obviously no chance of our getting through, 
for there must have been a hundred of the tribesmen 


49 



surrounding the village and arrows greeted us whichever 
way we turned. We went back to the hut, which Johnny 
cleaned out while I kept watch. Very little water re- 
naained, and we gave most of it to the horses, making do 
ourselves with a mixture of whisky and tinned milk — an 
interesting but not very refreshing beverage. Most of 
the grass was gone and we could find no more growing 
out of range of the arrows. 

For the rest of the day we sat outside the hut, keeping 
ourselves amused and encouraged by exchanging stories 
of past adventures. Johnny told me of German expedi- 
tions against the Makas in which he had taken part. He 
had been promoted to the rank of sergeant, he said 
proudly, because he had killed so many of these savages. 
The soldiers severed the right ears of dead Makas, 
threaded them on strings and showed them to their com- 
manding officers as proof of the number they had killed. 
Captured Maka women and girls were shared out among 
the victors. Johnny himself had so many that he was able 
to sell several to his friends. He still had four at home in 
Sengmelima, but they were getting old and he thought he 
would sell them now. They would not bring much, for 
they had all had several children, but together with the 
wages I would pay him for this trip he would have enough 
to buy a nice young virgin. 

Wives are freely bought and sold in the Cameroons, 
and anyone could at that time buy a young girl for a 
hundred francs, a few matchetes, a couple of goats and a 
dog. Ageing women are either re-sold or given to young 
boys, who learn the art of love-making from them before 
buying young girls themselves. However revolting this 
may seem to the European, it must be remembered that 
it has satisfied both the men and women of these primi- 

50 



live races for countless generations, and any attempt to 
alter it suddenly would be disastrous, as indeed it has 
already proved to be in some parts of Africa. The hire- 
purchase of wives has been the only serious fault xvith the 
system. Amusing as it may seem, it is quite usual for a girl 
to be bought for a down payment and a promise to pay 
the balance in instalments. Unfortunately, no written 
agreements are made, and di,sputes over what has or has 
not been paid for a girl are common. During the Second 
World War, when I became a police inspector at Bafang, 
I was constantly called upon to settle cases of this kind. 

I didn't think much of Johnny’s chances of getting a 
new girl at that time, for our position had not improved 
when darkness fell, and once more we barricaded our- 
selves inside the hut. By now this looked like a giant 
porcupine, xvith arrows and spears sticking out all over 
the thatch. I pulled one of the spears through and broke 
off its head, which I have with me still, It is a narrow 
blade of iron, with a number of barbs on the ferrule. 
My two sons sometimes play darts with it. 

At midnight the Makas returned and the dancing and 
shouting began again. In the morning we were still 
suiTounded but alive, though we were getting weak from 
lack of sleep and food. The horses, too, were in a bad 
way, and the inside of the hut stank with their dung and 
urine. There was no doubt now that the Makas were 
trying to starve us out. Johnny was gloomy, in the 
fatalistic way of the African, but he did not seem to be as 
afraid as I was. My own nerves were weakening hourly 
under the strain. I could not see how we could escape, 
for we were kept at bay by arrows if we tried to move out 
during the day, and at night our jailers kept up their 
noisy vigil with increasing fervour. This continued for 


51 



another day and for a third night and I do not mind 
admitting that throughout this time I was very much 
afraid. Why we waited in the hut at all I do not know. 
I kept making up my mind to try and shoot my way out, 
and then changing it again in favour of waiting to see 
whether the Makas would tire of their sport and give us a 
more favourable chance. But that was a forlorn hope. 

On the fourth night the moon rose later, but soon the 
Makas were howling around us again. Knowing we must 
be very weak, they were getting braver, thumping on the 
walls and jeering at us. Jolmny, who had learned a little of 
their language from his wives, translated some of their 
jibes, and they did not serve to cheer me. In spite of our 
weariness we found it impossible to snatch even a 
moment’s sleep, though we took turns trying, for we 
thought they might assault the door at any time. Then 
towards midnight something unexpected happened. The 
Makas had returned after a lull, or perhaps they were a 
new lot sent to relieve the others — I was too tired to 
wonder — and had started yelling and dancing, when we 
heard a shout of a different character, and the noise out- 
side died off raggedly. I hurried to the door and peered 
through the crack. 

They had gathered in a little group around a new- 
comer, who was talking excitedly to them. They seemed 
to be arguing about something, but finally they came to 
a decision and they all went off together. They did not 
come back that night, and when the sun rose Johnny and 
I emerged from the hut and reconnoitred again. There 
was no sign of them anywhere, and when we approached 
the forest there was no shower of arrows to send us scurry- 
ing back to the shelter of the huts. Suspicious, we fired 
several rounds into likely-looking bushes, but there was 

52 



no one behind them. We went deeper into the jungle, 
rapidly gaining confidence. At first we could not believe 
our senses, but for some reason the Makas had left us. 
Incredibly, we were free, at least for the present, and 
there was certainly no time to be wasted wondering why. 

Running back to the hut, we got out the horses and 
saddled them. We took our guns, water-bottles and first- 
aid kit and some tobacco and matches, but abandoned the 
rest of my equipment. Water was our first requirement, 
and after casting about a bit we found the stream. The 
horses were terribly weak, but they revived astonishingly 
after a drink. I did not think it wise to use the route we 
had come along, for if the Makas were to search for Us that 
would certainly be their first thought. Instead, I hoped 
to get through to the river in another direction. This 
was a mistake, as we soon found, but at the time we were 
too ill and distraught to be capable of clear thinking. 

We pushed on as quickly as we could, but it was a 
nightmare journey, for every plant along the trail seemed 
to wrap itself around our limbs and try to drag us back. 
Precious minutes were wasted hacking them away. At 
any moment I expected to hear sounds of pursuit and 
our efforts to get through became feverish. In the late 
afternoon we were lucky to find a broad, clear elephant 
track, which must have been used by the animals for 
centuries, and there we rested a while to have a smoke and 
a drink of whisky and water. We also took some quinine, 
for the prospect of fever in our weakened state was a real 
and terrible one. 

It got dark early that night, for there were heavy storm 
clouds about, and we made camp in the shelter of the 
great buttress roots of a cottonwood tree. We lit a tiny 
fire, and when Johnny found some wild yams we roasted 

53 



them for supper. They tasted horribly bitter, but there 
was nothing else to eat. For the horses we found a few 
handfuls of grass. 

Still neither of us could sleep, and we pushed on again 
as soon as it was light enough to see. The track petered 
out at the edge of a swamp, which we found impossible to 
cross. Going along the edge in search of a way round, 
we got lost, and it was only then that I discovered I had 
left my compass behind in the village. During the day 
we sampled aframomum, the gorilla food, and found it 
quite pleasant. The plant bears a red, elongated fruit, 
much like pomegranate inside. Natives call it monkey 
chop, for most of the monkeys and apes feed on it. Johnny 
sprang a surprise on me in the evening. He went to his 
saddlebag and pulled out a strip of smoked elephant 
meat, which he had had for months. We cooked it in a 
tobacco tin, and ate it with wild yams. The taste was vile, 
but it was the best meal I had eaten since we crossed the 
Dja river. There was very little grass, and the horses were 
in a dreadful state. I managed to get Charley to eat a 
yam, but Corney would not touch them. 

On the fourth night it began to rain heavily and we 
were soaked to the skin in a few minutes, but we got a 
smoky fire going. When the rain stopped I took off my 
socks and put them beside the fire to dry. In the morning 
I found that the fire had spread and they were burned to 
cinders. 

Corney was obviously dying and was so tormented by 
the flies and mosquitoes that I took him aside and put 
him out of his misery. We, too, were plagued by insects, 
particularly at dawn and dusk, and it was worse than ever 
after the rain. Most of the time we travelled along well- 
worn elephant paths, but we were too weak to do more 


54 



than a few hours a day. Sometimes we heard elephants 
trumpeting or crashing about in the forest, but we never 
saw them. 

I still kept my eye open for signs of gorillas, though 
my only aim now was to save myself and Johnny. For 
the most part we were too ill and tired to talk, but one 
night I asked him what he knew about gorillas, and 
whether he had ever seen them. He hadn’t; and what 
was more, he did not want to. 

“Me, I no want look ’em. All man savvy dis be bad 
beef. Some time, old Maka man turn into gorilla, all 
same man turn tiger and elephant.” 

It is a common superstition that certain natives have 
the power of turning themselves into animals at will. 
A solitary bull elephant, gorilla or any other large animal 
is always credited with the possession of a human soul, 
very often the soul of one’s father or grandfather. Johnny 
believed that gorillas walked upright and that they 
carried clubs which they used to beat down their victims. 

“I 'member you no fear Makas. How you do fear 
gorilla?” I asked him. 

“Me, I no fit fear Maka man,” was his reply, "but dis 
kin’ ju-ju beef no be plopper beef. He stand all same 
man; he pass man ten times for strong.” 

Food was our constant problem. There were plenty of 
birds and an occasional duiker or bushbuck, but we 
dared not risk a shot, lest the sound should reveal our 
position to the Makas, whom we supposed to be hot on 
our trail. Johnny used to eat fat white beetle grubs, as 
thick as a man’s finger, which he dug out of rafiia palm 
stems. I shut my eyes and popped one in my mouth, 
closed my teeth on it and promptly spat it out again. 

I preferred to starve. One morning Johnny cut the head 

55 



oif a Gaboon viper, a fat, venomous, vividly-coloured 
creature which had joined us at the fireside during the 
night. There was plenty of meat on the snake, and we 
gulped down great lumps of it half cooked. In its stomach 
was a partly digested rat, but we threw that away. 
Another time we came upon a leopard’s kill, a young bay 
duiker. Most of the flesh had been eaten, and what was 
left was putrid, but we scraped a little from the bones and 
it did not smell too badly after we had cooked it. 

We were pushing westwards all the time, so far as the 
forest trails would permit, but we had only the sun as a 
guide and we were in fact hopelessly lost. On the tenth 
day we came to a river, flowing fast and clean over a 
rocky bed. It was about a hundred yards wide, too small 
to be the Dja, yet in desperation I forced myself to believe 
that it was, and we began to cross, hoping to find food 
and safety on the other side. A little way downstream 
were a series of flat, smooth rocks, lying an inch or two 
below the surface, and we walked over on these, coaxing 
the horse after us. Half-way across he lost his footing, 
plunged into the torrent and was swept away. 

I thought he was lost, but he struggled furiously against 
the current, and where the river turned out of sight he 
reached the shallows and got a foothold, standing up to 
his belly in water and trembling violently, without the 
strength or the will to climb the bank. Johnny left me 
and scrambled after him, sometimes wading at the edge, 
sometimes chopping his way through vegetation on the 
bank. He reached the horse, took him by the bridle and 
helped and encouraged him to safety. 

When I joined them I found a path leading down from 
the forest to the water, and it was a path that had been 
made by human feet. We followed it, still trying to con- 

56 



vince ourselves that we had crossed the Dja. Before we 
had gone a quarter of a mile a crowd of young men armed 
with spears burst out of the trees and surrounded us and 
we saw at a glance that they were Makas. 

They were as surprised as we were and they could not 
make up their minds what to do with us. With gestures 
and shouts that were anything but friendly, they forced 
us forwards to their village, where they stood round us 
in a circle, discussing the problem and holding their 
spears ready. We both tried talking to them and making 
signs of friendship, but these were ignored altogether. 
Presently the chief joined them and they seemed to make 
up their minds. He gave a nod to the men behind me, 
and I sensed the intake of breath as they raised their 
spears to strike. 

At that moment a parrot went flying high overhead. 
I was carrying my shotgun, which is more useful and 
deadly than a rifle for shooting quickly at short range. 
On an impulse I fired at the parrot and it came plummet- 
ing down to earth. There was immediate confusion 
among the Makas and the young warriors withdrew 
from me, muttering among themselves and looking very 
impressed. They had seen rifles used before, but they 
knew nothing of shotguns. I would indeed have been an 
outstanding marksman to bring down the parrot with 
the single bullet of a rifle, but with the spreading pellets 
from a shotgun it was easy enough. The Makas did not 
know that; to them I was a hunter with a positively 
magical aim. 

After a hurried consultation the chief again stepped 
forward and spoke slowly and deliberately in his own 
language. Johnny translated. 

“He say, no want white man for him village. No want 

57 



white man palaver. White man go quickly. Maka man 
show way.” 

That was good enough for me. We asked for food, but 
they would give us none, and we did not stop to argue 
about it. We willingly followed the men who led us off 
into the forest. They showed us a path, which, they said, 
led directly to the Dja river, and then they hastily left 
us. Two or three hours later we reached the river and 
on the other side we could see women fetching water. 
They ran off when we called to them, but returned 
quickly with their menfolk. For a long time we could not 
get them to cross in their canoes and fetch us, for they 
were suspicious and afraid. Eventually a single canoe put 
off. Approaching us timidly, the men in it asked who we 
were and what we wanted. When at last they understood 
the situation they eagerly helped us in and took us across, 
explaining that they could not believe that strangers had 
come through the Maka territory alive. 

Their village was called Avebe, and we were treated 
by them all with the warmest friendliness and sympathy. 
Some of the women began making a meal, and soon we 
were feasting on boiled fowl, plantains and ground-nut 
soup. We were given a hut and a couple of native beds, 
and an hour later we had fallen into a sleep that lasted 
for forty-eight hours. Meanwhile, Charley was also well 
looked after — fed, brushed down and given a thorough 
rest. He ate ravenously and filled out again in a few 
days. 

When we had sufficiently recovered we walked to 
N’Yemjum, another village a day’s march away, from 
where we intended to go to the Government station at 
Akoafim, to make a report. We found the people of 
N’Yemjum busy tidying up their village and we were 

58 



told that they expected the Governor — they meant the 
District Officer — Adjutant Marcelin — ^with many soldiers 
the next day. We spent the night at this village and in 
the morning met the Adjutant on the Akoafim road. 
When he saw me he almost fell from his horse in 
surprise. 

“Merfieldl ” he kept repeating. “My God, Merfield! ” 

I greeted him cheerfully and asked where he was going. 
He stared at me for a long time before replying. 

"This is very difficult,” he said at last. “As a matter 
of fact I am leading a punitive expedition to the Maka 
country to avenge your death.” Then he brightened a 
little. "Well, anyway, if you haven’t been eaten, some- 
one certainly has.” 

He told me that the hand of a white man had turned 
up at Lomie Government station, brought by a native 
who had promptly disappeared. Since I was the only 
European known to be anywhere near the Maka country, 
and certainly the only man they knew who would be 
crazy enough to go there, they had naturally supposed 
the hand to be mine, and the native to be one of my 
carriers who had run off lest he be implicated in my 
death. A cable had been sent to England informing my 
parents that I was dead. My house at Ebolowa had been 
sealed up, according to French law, and an inventory of 
my property had been made ready for auction. 

Marcelin had only twenty native soldiers with him, 
and I was astonished to learn that with this tiny force he 
intended to subdue the Makas. But he saw his duty quite 
clearly and went off and did it, as I afterwards learned, 
with great thoroughness and success. Major Dominick 
could have done no better. 

Who was the white man who had died in my place, 

59 



and. why did the Makas let me go when I was within their 
grasp? When Marcelin returned we learned a little of 
the truth, but most of it will always be a mystery. The 
victim was apparently one of the many European adven- 
turers who roamed Central Africa doing a little trading, 
a little prospecting and perhaps a little of those things 
that are best kept from official eyes. Elence he had not 
informed the various Government stations of his move- 
ments, as I always did, and with no one to warn him he 
had entered the Maka country from the Congo without 
knowing what sort of people they were. On our last, 
terrible night of imprisonment he had reached a village 
only a mile away from us. The Makas there had used 
different tactics, welcoming him and giving him food. 
Then, as he sat eating outside his hut, they speared him in 
the back. The Makas who were surrounding us had gone 
off to join in the feast, but why they should have left us 
entirely without a guard and apparently made no attempt 
to catch us again afterwards I shall never know. I can 
only guess that they thought us too weak to need watch- 
ing, and after eating the other man they had, like 
children, become suddenly afraid of retribution in the 
form of Major Dominick and another punitive expedi- 
tion. 

1 was able to return to Ebolowa in time to save my 
effects from auction and a successful elephant hunt pro- 
duced enough ivory to pay for the replacement of every- 
thing I had lost to the Makas, 

Years later, after I married, I went with my wife to 
Lomie, where the District Officer showed her the official 
report of my supposed death. 

As for Johnny, I tried hard to get him to stay with me, 
but soldiering was in his blood and he left me to join 

6o 



the French Force de Police. I met him again ten or 
twelve years later while hunting in the N’Gounderie 
district with Major Powell-Cotton, the great hunter and 
collector. Johnny bought his new wife, and when their 
first son was born they called him "Merfield”. 


6i 



CHAPTER III 


CHIMPS, CHOGAS AND GORILLAS 

No ONE can live for long in the interior of West Africa 
without hearing the large families of chimpanzees which 
roam the forests, often quite near the towns. They are 
noisy and excitable animals, and when they get really 
worked up they utter blood-curdling hoots and screams 
which can be heard for miles. In all zoos, young chim- 
panzees attract the greatest popular interest, for they arc 
lively and amusing caricatures of ourselves. Intelligence 
and character vary just as much among them as among 
men. A clever little chimp will outstrip a human child 
in intelligence up to the age of three or four, but after 
that the chimp’s development rapidly slows down to a 
standstill, while the human child catches up and over- 
takes it. 

Though they are so beguiling when young, chim- 
panzees can rarely be trusted beyond the age of six or 
seven, as many a misguided animal lover has found to 
his cost. An adult chimpanzee is not as big as a man, but 
he is much stronger and is prone to fits of ungovernable 
fury. With his huge mouth and long, canine teeth, he can 
be a dangerous antagonist. 

Chimps can learn an amazing number of things. It is 
possible, for instance, not only to house-train an intelli- 
gent youngster, but to teach him to use the lavatory, toilet 
paper and all, as efficiently as a child. Pie can learn to 
ride a bicycle, switch the right lights on and off, answer 

62 



the door and sit down to dinner with table manners that 
would put many a human child to shame. But as he 
groxvs older he wearies of these things. The novelty 
wears off, and it is not replaced by the consciousness that 
certain actions have good and useful results. The lava- 
tory no longer amuses him, and since he can see no point 
in being clean, he no longer bothers about it — and is 
hurriedly offered to the local zoo. 

I learned much about chimpanzees during the years 
following my trip to the Maka country, where I began 
exploring the more remote regions of the Yaounde forests 
in search of gorillas. How intelligent is a chimpanzee? 
How far is his learning derived from unreasoning imita- 
tion? There is a classic experiment in which a chim- 
panzee is left alone in a room where a bunch of bananas 
hangs out of reach above his head, and the only way of 
getting them down is with the aid of poles which must be 
fitted together, like a sweep’s broom-handle, in order to 
reach tliat far. After a time the animal will discover the 
solution to the problem, and to do so requires the exercise 
of intelligence. Only once have I seen such intelligence 
being put to good account by wild chimpanzees, and the 
incident is important enough to be worth recording. 

I was tracking the rare bongo antelope through very 
thick forest when my attention was attracted by the noise 
of chimpanzees. They appeared to be highly excited and 
I decided to stalk them and see what they were doing. 
With my gun-bearer N’Gombie I crept through the bush 
and found eight chimpanzees — six of them almost full- 
grown — sitting in a circle at the edge of a small clearing. 
Like gorillas, they have a poor sense of smell, and since 
we moved silently they did not detect us. They were 
making a lot of noise and kept beating and pushing each 

63 



other aside, but for a time I could not see what they were 
up to. I sought the opinion of N'Gombie, who was a 
very experienced hunter. 

“What t’ing dey do do?” I whispered. 

He replied; “Massa, dey do chop honey what dem 
small beef do make for ground.” 

The “small beef”, in this case, was a small black bee, 
which makes a nest in the ground and produces a rather 
coarse kind of honey. Watching through my binoculars, 
I could see that the chimps were sitting round the 
entrance to one of these nests. Each ape held a long twig, 
which it poked down the hole and withdrew coated with 
honey. There was only one hole, and though for the most 
part they took turns at using their twigs, quarrels were 
constantly breaking out, and those who had licked off 
most of their honey tried to snatch the newly-coated 
twigs. We watched them for over half an hour at a range 
of fifty yards, before creeping away as silently as we had 
come, so as not to disturb the party. This is one of the few 
examples I have known of a wild animal employing a 
tool. 

N’Gombie was well qualified to instruct me in the 
behaviour and habits of chimpanzees. I have already 
mentioned the African’s inclination to romance, and it is 
true that gullible travellers will be told the wildest tales 
about animals and native customs in the hope of an extra 
“dash” in money or gifts. But it is another matter where 
long-established European residents of the country are 
concerned and there is a chance of the African being 
caught out. I do not think I was lied to very often, at 
least by those who knew me, and from time to time I 
was given information which is worth reporting. Natur- 
alists are, of course, at liberty to reject these stories until 

64 




Couiitsy PoweU’CoHon Museuni 

At the camp-fire in gorilla country with native spear-men. They 
were hunting gorillas which had destroyed their plantations 





Couflesy Powell-Collon Mttsmt 

The author on the banks of the Sanaga river. The basket beside 
him is a native fish trap 




such time as they are confirmed by trained observers. 

“Chimpanzees are difficult to follow up when 
wounded,” N’Gombie told me, “because they stuff the 
wound with grass and leaves, and are careful to wipe away 
all traces of blood from their coats. However, if the blood 
flow is copious they are not able to clean it all away and 
may then be tracked. 

“Last year my brother found a young chimpanzee up 
a tree and threw sticks at it. When it came down he tried 
to catch it, but it was too strong, so he struck it on the 
head rvith his machete. The youngster’s mother then 
arrived, jumped on my brother’s back and tried to poke 
his eyes out. He still has a scar on the right side of his 
face from a wound she made with her nails. He yelled 
loudly and the old chimp left him, picked up the young- 
ster, wiped the blood from its head and carried it off.” 

It will come as a surprise to learn that chimpanzees, 
gorillas and most monkeys, far from taking refuge in 
trees when attacked, will usually descend to the ground 
and try to make off through the undergrowth. Chim- 
panzees drop crazily from the branches, like ripe fruit, 
making a fearful hullabaloo, but gorillas come down 
slowly and carefully, as befits animals of their great 
weight, grunting and coughing with anger. 

At dusk, the chimpanzee family climb into the 
branches of a big tree, where, with the exception of the 
very young, each makes for himself a rough bed or nest 
in which to spend the night. These nests are seldom used 
more than once, for the next morning the family moves 
off again, roving wildly about the forest. Their food con- 
sists mostly of vegetable matter, but, unlike gorillas, 
they are not averse to insects and even young birds. 

By far the most intelligent chimp, of the many that 

OCP/99T— c 65 



passed through my hands on their way to zoos, was Bo-Bo. 
She was a choga, or black-faced chimp, and was ten years 
old when her European owner decided that her temper 
no longer fitted her for life in a bungalow. She came to 
me armed with a detailed list of her requirements, which 
I found to my surprise included a daily ration of twenty 
cigarettes, a glass of red wine and an aperitif. She wore a 
collar to which a long, stout chain was attached, and 
having been warned that she was not always to be trusted 
I did not think it wise to take it off. At that time I had 
a concession at Yaounde and the prospect of Bo-Bo run- 
ning amok in the town was not an appealing one, particu- 
larly since her peculiar tastes might well have decided 
her on a pub-crawl. 

During the six months she stayed with me, I therefore 
provided her with a paddock of her own, and the end of 
the chain was secured to a tree-stump. For shelter, she 
had a large packing crate, and for warmth, a voluminous 
old sack. The latter was precious to her and she was most 
particular about keeping it clean. When she got up in 
the morning she carefully wrapped it round her 
shoulders or over her head, picking off invisible bits of 
dirt, and muttering with annoyance when she could not 
get it draped to her liking. 

A cigarette was essential before breakfast could be 
thought of by so confirmed a slave to nicotine. English 
cigarettes were expensive out there, and she did not get 
her twenty a day, but she was an inveterate saounger 
with a perfect technique, and sooner or later someone 
would succumb to her appeals. Having lit a cigarette, 
she lay on her back with her legs crossed and one arm 
under her head, inhaling deeply and with the greatest 
relish. She was most particular about the ash, examining 

66 



the end of the cigarette from time to time with the air 
of an expert. If she could get a second cigarette, she lit 
it at once from the stub of the first. When there was 
obviously no chance of a second coming along in the 
foreseeable future, she was careful to make it last as long 
as possible, improvising a cigarette holder with a rolled- 
up leaf, as she had seen the natives doing. 

One day Mr. Darwell, the British Vice-Consul in 
Douala, paid a visit to Yaounde, and since Bo-Bo’s fame 
had spread widely, he came to see her. After giving him 
an exhibition of her tricks, she stood up, beat her chest 
and held out her hand for a cigarette, which she regarded 
as an appropriate fee for her performance. Darwell had 
a tin of fifty and he took one out and gave it to her. She 
smoked it as hurriedly as she could and then begged for 
a second. 

“Oh no,” said Darwell, “you don’t get another; they’re 
too expensive for chimps.” 

“Hoo, hoo, hoo,” said Bo-Bo, looking very coy and 
appealing, and she flapped her hands in a desperate 
appeal. He continued to refuse, and she hoo-hooed again, 
this time stamping her foot with frustration. 'Then 
Darwell made a mistake. To tease her he put the tin of 
cigarettes on the ground just out of her reach. Bo-Bo 
stretched as far as the chain would allow, but there tvas 
still another six inches to go. She stood on all fours for 
a moment or two and regarded the problem. Then she 
solved it. She spun round, with her back to the tin so 
that she added the length of her body to her reach, and 
got hold of it quite easily with her foot. Before the 
startled Darwell had time to snatch it away, she was back 
with it inside her box, hooting and jeering at him from 
under her sack. 


67 



“Well I’m damned! ” said Darwell. “My last tin, too. 
Try and get them back, Merfield old chap.” 

“Not on your life! You teased her; get them back 
yourself.” 

Darwell walked towards Bo-Bo’s box, but when he got 
within ten yards she came tearing out at him with murder 
written all over her face. He took to liis heels, and as he 
ran a handful of black wet mud caught him squarely on 
the back of his white suit. 

Monday, of course, was wash-day, and Bo-Bo would be 
stamping with impatience to get on with the job of 
doing her smalls. She was given a bundle of dirty clothes 
— kept specially for the purpose — an old, galvanised 
iron tub, a scrubbing board, soap, water and some pegs. 
A clothes-line was strung up across the paddock, con- 
veniently low. With this apparatus ready, Bo-Bo first 
examined the clothes, deciding apparently which should 
be washed first, in case of colours running, and all that 
sort of thing. Her method was to alternate vigorous use of 
the scrubbing-board with a technique of her own, con- 
sisting of holding the garment high in the air and bring- 
ing it down into the tub with a great thump and a splash, 
sending up clouds of soapy spray. The whole operation 
was repeated with great rapidity and enthusiasm. When 
she had finished washing the clothes, she rinsed them 
in a separate bucket, wrung them, and pegged them out 
to dry. She had done her best, and it was sad indeed to see 
that the garments had in the process become dirtier than 
before. 

Bo-Bo herself, however, was plainly satisfied with the 
results of her industry, and she now set about the next 
chore of the day. With an old machete borrowed from 
one of my more indulgent men, she mowed the lawn, 

68 



making great sweeps -^vith this improvised scythe and 
flourishing it above her head before every new stroke. 
At the same time she stamped her left foot and muttered 
fiercely at the grass, as though she Tvere wreaking ven- 
geance on some long-hated enemy. Afterwards she swept 
up the cuttings, together with any other rubbish lying 
about, and paused now and then to examine the ground 
at her feet, in search of any microscopic scrap she might 
have overlooked. 

She w'as always ready to help about the house or garden, 
and she could sift flour or dig up sweet potatoes as ably 
as my cook. During the afternoon she usually had a 
nap, but if she could not sleep she amused herself throw- 
ing stones on the corrugated iron roof of the nearby bank, 
much to the annoyance of the busy folk beneath. Six 
o’clock was the time for her aperitif and afterwards her 
glass of wine, which she poured herself and sipped like a 
connoisseur. She was discriminating as regards company 
and had few close friends. Candidates for her patronage 
were first subjected to a close inspection and were more 
often than not rejected. Woe betide them if they refused 
to take no for an answer I My cook, who was normally 
one of the favoured few, once somehow forfeited her 
affections and narrowly escaped decapitation by Bo-Bo's 
whirling machete. 

It may be that only people with experience of chim- 
panzees will credit Bo-Bo’s most remarkable and useful 
accomplishment, but it is true enough. One of the worst 
pests of tropical Africa are the tiny fleas called jiggers, 
which burrow unnoticed under the skin of one’s toes and 
set up irritation and infection. Native children are often 
permanently crippled by these parasites, and at the end 
of each day it is always a wise precaution to have one’s 

69 



feet examined. The usual way of getting them out is with 
a fine splinter of bamboo, and this can be a painful opera- 
tion unless performed by an expert. Bo-Bo was as good at 
it as anyone I knew. You had to sit down beside her, 
present your feet and a piece of bamboo, and leave the 
rest to her. With your toes just in front of her nose, so 
that she had to squint, she would winkle the beastly 
things out in no time, and she was so skilful at it that 
natives would queue up for her attention. Dr. Bo-Bo’s 
evening surgery was a sight to be remembered. 

At length I had to part with her. She was suitably 
crated and shipped off to London, where she was the only 
choga ever exhibited by the Zoological Society. Her life 
there can best be told in the words of Mr. Laurie Smith, 
Head Keeper of the Primates. 

“Bo-Bo was a tremendous success in Regent’s Park, and 
became widely known as the chain-smoking chimp. 
Because of the danger of setting fire to the straw, smoking 
in the monkey-house is forbidden to visitors, let alone to 
the animals themselves, but somehow Bo-Bo often man- 
aged to cadge a cigarette. She quickly came to under- 
stand, however, that they were not so easily come by in 
the zoo as they had been in Africa, and she adjusted her 
economy accordingly. Instead of smoking the cigarette 
right through, she would stub it carefully when it was 
only half gone, and place the remainder on a little ledge. 
She seemed to be well aware of the danger of fire, for she 
was careful to see that no sparks remained smouldering. 
Presently, when she fancied a smoke again, she would 
stick the cigarette on the edge of her lip and gesticulate 
wildly to passers-by until she got a light. You could hand 
her a box of matches or a lighter, and she would not only 
use them properly but could always be trusted to 


70 



hand them back when she had finished with them.” 

Not long after Bo-Bo’s arrival at Regent’s Park, she 
began to lose weight and refuse her food. Tuberculosis 
was suspected, but when she failed to respond to treat- 
ment it was thought that decaying teeth might be the 
cause of her illness. The well-known dentist, Mr. S. A. 
Kemp, a Fellow of the Zoological Society with long 
experience in the dental treatment of animals, was 
therefore asked to examine her, and I am indebted 
to Mr. Kemp for the following account of her 
treatment. 

Bo-Bo’s dangerous fits of temper were well known, and 
it was with some trepidation that Mr. Kemp and the 
keeper entered her cage. The possibility that pain might 
aggravate her temper made it too risky to attempt a 
thorough examination, but the keeper gently pulled 
down her lower lip and Mr. Kemp saw at once that she 
had a bad dental condition. Bo-Bo was coaxed into a 
suitable box, which she entered, as a chimpanzee can 
always be depended on to do, out of sheer curiosity. 
Once inside, she was anaesthetised and seven of her 
decayed teeth were extracted. 

For a week after the operation, Bo-Bo would eat no 
food, even though the choicest fruits and tid-bits were 
offered her. When hope was almost given up, someone 
remembered her taste for wine and a bottle of Chianti 
was produced. A little of the wine was poured into a glass, 
but Bo-Bo brushed this aside, seized the bottle and 
emptied it in one draught. Soon afterwards, slightly 
tipsy, she began to eat, and she recovered her usual good 
health and spirits in no time. 

During her post-operative treatment, Bo-Bo was a 
model patient. She not only allowed Mr, Kemp to swab 

n 



out her gums and s}Tinge the cavities every day, but was 
most anxious to learn how to do so herself. There was no 
doubt that she understood perfectly that Mr. Kemp was 
trying to help her. She managed to manipulate the 
cotton-wool swabs quite well, but the syringe had her 
beaten, for she could not get the hang of pressing the 
plunger. 

While this treatment was going on, Bo-Bo became 
acutely interested in Mr. Kemp’s hnger-nails, and gave 
him a manicure every day, cleaning under his nails with 
a piece of straw. She and Mr. Kemp remained firm friends 
until her death nine years later in 1 940. Mr. Kemp still 
has her skull, which was presented to him as a memento 
of a successful operation. 

Bo-Bo was a black-faced chimpanzee, or choga, a rare 
variety about which I was given from time to time a great 
deal of intriguing but inaccurate information. Chogas 
were alleged to be very dangerous, since they had the 
strength of gorillas and the cunning of chimpanzees. In 
the Batouri district they are called N’Killingi, which 
means "gorilla’s brother’’. After collecting and studying 
a large number of gorillas, chimpanzees and chogas, I 
came to quite different conclusions. I once discovered a 
female choga that made repeated and unprovoked 
attacks on village children, but generally they are no 
more dangerous than common chimpanzees; on tlie other 
hand, they differ from all other chimpanzees and resemble 
gorillas in a number of interesting ways; like gorillas, 
they have prominent eye-brow ridges, and they are coal 
black all over; male chogas have small, gorilla-like crests 
and the same smell as gorillas, though it is much less 
powerful. For anatomical reasons there can be no ques- 
tion of inter-breeding between chogas and gorillas. 

VS 



Unlike gorillas, female chimpanzees and chogas have 
conspicuous menstrual swellings. 

In some parts of the Batouri district chogas and 
common chimpanzees share the same habitat, so it is 
quite likely that they interbreed and that this might 
account for the considerable individual variation in 
colour. Many chimpanzees have dark brown hands and 
feet and sometimes blotches of black on the face. In the 
adult choga, the ears are much smaller and more highly 
placed than in the chimpanzee. 

One day I found the tracks of a large family of gorillas 
and I decided to spend a fortnight watching them. The 
family consisted of four fully-grown females — three of 
them with babies and the other obviously pregnant — 
two half -grown males and the “Old Man” — a fine bull 
gorilla in the prime of life. Many authoritative books on 
natural history still give most romantic descriptions of 
the sleeping arrangements of gorillas. It is said that the 
females and young males sleep in nests high in the trees, 
like chimpanzees, while the old man sits guarding them 
all through the night on the ground below, with his arms 
folded and his back to the trunk. What a pity this attrac- 
tive picture is entirely false! Gorillas never make their 
nests in trees : in fact, they seldom climb at all. As for the 
adult males, only the largest trees could support their 
weight, and even the lowest branches of such trees are 
well out of their reach. The gorilla always makes his 
bed at ground level, and he does so in a very clever 
way. 

He chooses an open glade where, among the secondary 
growth, there are plenty of canes and young saplings, 
which he bends to the ground. Holding them down 
with his feet, he moves in a rotary fashion, interlacing 

73 


ocp/ggi — c* 



them until he has a fine spring mattress capable of raising 
him above the damp earth. The leafy tops are then 
stripped off and laid under and about him until he be- 
comes comfortably settled. One typical nest I examined 
and measured was 3 ft. 6 in. by 5 ft. 9 in. across and was 
2 ft. 6 in. above the ground. A separate bed is made by 
each member of the family, except the very young, who 
cuddle up to mother. Once he is comfortably settled, 
with his head pillowed on his arms in a bent-forward 
position, nothing will induce the gorilla to leave his bed 
until sunrise, when he begins foraging for food. On wet, 
cold mornings he is loth to get up, and fouls his bed. 
In the dry season he gets up early and the beds are then 
found clean. Gorilla beds are also made in virgin forest, 
but are then constructed of leafy vegetation on the 
ground, because sapling growth in the forest is scarce. 
Open glades or the secondary growth covering aban- 
doned plantations are always preferred. 

On fine days, my gorilla family got up just before dawn 
and set about finding their breakfast. They ate large 
quantities of aframomum fruit and also the plant’s juicy 
stalks, after stripping off the tough green skin. The 
young shoots of elephant grass were much sought after, 
and so were the rough leaves of the wild fig, sometimes 
called the sand-paper leaf since they are used by natives 
for scouring their pots. But their favourite food was the 
rich, oily fruit of the majap tree, which ripens towards 
the end of the rainy season in October, and from which 
the natives extract cooking oil. To get this fruit they had 
to climb trees, but this was left entirely to the smaller 
females. The Old Man made no attempt to climb, sitting 
forlornly on the ground and contenting himself with the 
fruit knocked down by his lighter and more agile ladies. 



During the majap season the whole family rapidly put on 
weight, becoming very fat, but they thinned down again 
when the fruit disappeared. This was a pattern I 
observed again and again with many other gorilla 
families. 

I had no wish to shoot or capture any of my family, 
of whom I quickly became very fond, but I took the 
opportunity of testing their reaction to my presence. 
When I showed myself at close quarters the result was 
always the same. The Old Man stood erect and stared 
at me, screamed and beat his abdomen — not his chest — 
with his open hands in a rolling movement. When I 
showed signs of advancing, he dropped on all fours and 
charged, screaming and showing his teeth as he came. 
I know of no other animal more terrifying than an angry 
charging bull gorilla, and it is little wonder that hunters 
sometimes lose their nerve and run away. I took care to 
face the Old Man in an open clearing, where I could see 
what he was up to, and I held my rifle ready knowing 
that I could drop him with a brain shot if he came too 
close. I was sufficiently confident of this to resolve to 
let him approach within fifteen yards before firing, but 
to my surprise, although he must have charged me a 
dozen times, he never came nearer than twenty yards. 
At that distance, he wheeled round and returned to his 
family, scolding me as he went. Then if I moved forward 
he charged again, and the whole performance would be 
repeated two or three times. When this failed to scare 
me off, the family retreated at such a speed that it 
tvas difficult to find them or catch up with them 
again. 

I began to realise that the Old Man's threats and 
charges were pure bluff, and this was abundantly con- 

75 



firmed by later experiences. With the possible exception 
of a few bad-tempered or wounded individuals, gorillas 
will not attack a man who stands his ground. Hotrever, if 
the man’s courage should fail him and he turns to run 
away, the gorilla will chase him and inflict terrible 
wounds with his hands and nails. I have seen the flesh 
stripped from the back and buttocks of natives in this 
xvay, but I know of only two occasions when a gorilla used 
his teeth to inflict injuries. In one case a native hunter 
who had tripped over a root was bitten through the ribs 
and died a few days later. 

There is only one tribe in the Cameroons — -the 
Mendjim Mey — who regularly hunt gorillas for food, and 
among them it is a disgrace to be injured by a gorilla. 
Should a hunter return with such injuries he is laughed 
at as a coward, for the people know that the gorilla would 
not have attacked if the man had not taken fright and run 
away. Of course there are exceptions to this. If you 
happen to tread on a gorilla’s toes in the forest, you can 
expect to be torn to pieces, but even then the gorilla will 
be more concerned with getting away than with killing 
you. His action will be to sweep you aside with his 
powerful arms and hands, which is what had happened 
to me with the Ambam gorilla. 

As for the females, they are completely harmless. I 
have seen native hunters, having dispatched the Old 
Man, surround females and beat them over the head with 
sticks. They don’t even try to get away, and it is most 
pitiful to see them putting their arms over their heads to 
ward off the blows, making no attempt at retaliation, The 
bull gorilla’s charges are certainly bluff, but it is not true 
to say that he is a coward, for he will protect his family 
at the cost of his own life. This contrasts strongly with the 

76 



behaviour of chimpanzees. When they are attacked the 
males make off at once, leaving the others to their fate. 

Leopards abound in the West African forests, and they 
will sometimes include young chimpanzees or gorillas in 
their diet, but stories of bull gorillas engaged in mortal 
combat with leopards are imaginary. Gorillas, however, 
seem to have no fear of leopards, in spite of the danger 
from them to their young, as the following incident will 
show. 

My gorilla family were feeding quietly at the edge of 
an abandoned plantation, with the babies tumbling 
about happily under the indulgent eye of their gigantic 
father, when I noticed the movement of a branch above 
and behind them. Using my binoculars, I saw a leopard 
crouching on the branch, watching the youngsters with 
shining, round eyes. None of the gorillas appeared to be 
aware of its presence. I did not want to lose any of “my” 
babies, but neither did I want to disturb the family by 
shooting, for I had had enough trouble keeping up with 
them as it was, so I asked N’Gombie to try and get the 
leopard with an arrow. 

He was reluctant to do so, for there was a chance that 
if he hit but did not kill the leopard, it would spring on 
the babies and kill them all in retaliation. A breeze 
springing up behind us resolved the situation by carry- 
ing our scent across to the leopard. Alarmed, it jumped 
down into the open within a few yards of the gorillas, and 
then bounded off into the bush. It was astonishing that 
even then the gorillas were unperturbed. The Old Man 
just glanced at the leopard and went on eating; one of the 
young males got up and coughed a bit, and the others 
took no notice at all. Most animals would have stampeded 
at the sight of a leopard. 


77 



The relationship of gorillas with other animals is 
equally interesting. I have found that they are terrified of 
dogs, but have no fear of elephants. On several occasions 
I found them feeding within yard's of an elephant herd, 
neither party seemingly concerned about the other’s 
presence. Only once was this harmony disturbed. I am 
not sure what went wrong, but for some reason the Old 
Man, backed by his two hefty sons, suddenly turned 
screaming on the elephants and apparently stampeded 
them. It may be that the gorillas had heard and were 
threatening me, not the elephants, for I was moving 
about a lot, or perhaps I had been scented by the 
elephants and in some way their alarm was instantly 
communicated to the gorillas. 

Gorillas breed at any time of the year, but no reliable 
observer has ever wdtnessed their mating and they have 
never bred in captivity. Consequently, the gestation 
period is unknown, though it may well be roughly the 
same as our own. The pregnant female of my family 
group had her baby at the beginning of my second week 
of observation. One morning I found her considerably 
thinner, but I stared for a long while before I could 
identify the wispy black creature, like a hairy spider, 
which she hugged with one arm to her breast. Against her 
own black skin and hair it was difficult to see the tiny 
thing at all. The older babies rode on their mothers’ 
backs when travelling, and N’Gombie reported that he 
once saw a baby gorilla riding on its father’s back. I never 
saw that happen, but I always had the impression that 
the Old Man, in his dim and brutish way, was fond 
enough of his offspring. 

Except when disturbed, the family made very little 
noise. At night, the Old Man could be heard making a 

78 



queer, gargling sound from his bed and N’Gombie be- 
lieved that this was to warn off intruders. After feeding, 
they sometimes beat their bellies with the flat of their 
hands and I am convinced that this is done more usually 
in play or as an expression of well-being than to denote 
anger and offence. Other signs of good humour were 
clapping, patting their cheeks and slapping the ground. 
The females rarely made any vocal sounds, but all three 
males, and more especially the Old Man, puffed and 
grunted as they tore at the vegetation in search of food. 
When they sat down to enjoy a meal they heaved gusty, 
noisy sighs of satisfaction. The babies were to be heard 
only when they were upset, and then their resemblance 
to human children was most remarkable, Seated on their 
little black bottoms, with their legs stretched out and 
their faces screwed up, they bawled exactly as children 
do. 

For hour after hour every day I stood watching the 
gorillas, often up to my neck or chest in thick under- 
growth, and by the end of each day I was infested with 
ticks. The apes are apparently unattractive to these pests, 
for I never found external parasites of any kind on my 
specimens. Gorillas are by no means as clean as chim- 
panzees. They scratch themselves, but seldom trouble to 
look and see what is causing the irritation, while 
chimpanzees will promptly and most delicately remove 
any kind of fluff or seed sticking to their bodies. They 
also detest dirty or sticky hands, but gorillas are not so 
particular. 

My family lived in perfect harmony most of the time, 
but towards the end of the fortnight the largest of the 
two half-grown males had begun to cheek his father, I 
was sorry, for the Old Man was an excellent parent and 

79 



he did not deserve his inevitable fate of being challenged 
and finally driven out to a lonely old age by the younger 
and more vigorous males. My notes contain abundant 
details of the titanic struggles for leadership that take 
place between bull gorillas. I have never seen such a 
fight, but many of my specimens bore several injuries 
which I believe were the result of them. One very large 
male had had his right arm torn off from above the 
elbow, but the wound healed perfectly, and in this case 
he had won the battle, for he was still head of his family 
when I met him. Old males driven away from their 
families continue thereafter to lead solitary lives, but 
young males soon join with other groups, where they 
are apparently accepted by the Old Man. Females are 
never found alone. 

Nothing would have made me happier than an in- 
definite stay near my adopted family, but five miles away 
was my camp, with a dozen carriers, gun-bearers and 
servants — a costly but necessary burden. I had to earn my 
living, so at the end of the fortnight I packed up and went 
about my business. I shall not easily forget my last view 
of the family before I turned my back on them and stole 
away through the forest. The warm bright sunlight of 
early morning was filtering through the branches of a 
great cottonwood tree, and the gorillas, finishing their 
breakfast, were warming themselves after a damp and 
chilly night. The Old Man, sitting with his legs crossed, 
was chewing a majap fruit, and though there were lots 
more lying about, one of the babies, with the perversity 
of extreme youth, was trying to pluck it from his mouth. 
Several times he was pushed away, the Old Man twisting 
his head out of reach. Soon the fruit was gone and the 
baby trotted away towards his mother. He was helped 

8o 



on his way with an affectionate and gentle pat on the 
bottom from his gigantic parent’s hand — a hand 
that could have crushed a human skull with a single 
blow. 

What of the future of gorillas? Will they, too, join that 
long and melancholy line of animals driven to extinction 
by the gi'eed and intolerance of man? The spread of 
cultivation in West Africa during the past thirty years 
has certainly reduced both their range and their 
numbers, but I fancy that there are vast tracts of moun- 
tainous forest which are never likely to produce those 
things that men desire, and it may be that in these regions 
the gorilla will manage to survive. 

We may be encouraged in this optimism by a decision 
made at the third International Conference for the Pro- 
tection of African Fauna and Flora, which was held at 
Bukavu, in the Belgian Congo, in October 1953. Under 
the 1933 Convention, certain of the rarer animals had 
been placed in either Class A or Class B. Those in the 
A category were to be completely protected, while those 
under B were not to be hunted, killed or captured except 
by licence, and such licences were granted only under 
special circumstances. At the 1953 Conference the 
French delegation reported that gorillas were increasing 
in numbers and becoming a nuisance, doing consider- 
able damage to plantations. For this reason it was 
successfully contented that they should be relegated to 
Class B. 

The situation, then, is promising, but even so we must 
not be complacent. The suggestion made by American 
authorities that every effort should be made to breed 
gorillas in captivity deserves serious attention. There are 
several animals, such as the European bison and P^re 

81 



David’s deer, which are extinct in the wild and now 
exist only in zoos. If the worst comes to the worst, it may 
be that we can save the greatest and most romantic of the 
primates in this same fashion. 


8s 



CHAPTER IV 


BIG GAME HUNTERS 

One o£ the most profitable but at the same time most 
exasperating tasks of a professional hunter is to organise 
safaris for visiting sportsmen. These wealthy gentlemen 
are sometimes experienced hunters and naturalists, with 
whom it is a delight to work, but more often they are 
idle fatheads whose only wish is to acquire a spurious 
glory by the slaughter of some of Africa's finest animals. 
You take your client into the bush, coaxing, bullying, 
wheedling or threatening him into the correct be- 
haviour, show him an elephant, a rhino, a buffalo, or 
whatever it is he wants to shoot, and then you say: “Well, 
there’s your trophy : point your rifle at it and pull the 
trigger.” Afterwards the big game hunter returns home 
and is applauded as a hero by admiring friends. 

I always tried to avoid such commissions. Hunting and 
collecting brought me a modest income, which was 
usually enough for me to indulge my curiosity in gorillas 
and other rare creatures; and that was all I ever wanted. 
Unhappily, I acquired a reputation as a hunter and 
explorer which proved to be most inconvenient and 
troublesome. In the ig^o’s and ’50’s all sorts of weird and 
wealthy characters from Europe and America, encum- 
bered with elaborate and expensive equipment, were 
demanding my services on safaris. I dodged them when- 
ever I could, preferring to remain in the deep forest 
away from the towns, but now and then I had to return 

83 



to Yaounde to settle business matters or to get supplies. 

On one such occasion I was approached by a gentle- 
man who very badly wanted to shoot a gorilla. He was a 
European manufacturer, and though his name was not 
Vincent, for the purpose of this story we shall pretend 
that it was. M. Vincent, then, wished to prove himself a 
man by taking home a stuffed ape, and he was prepared 
to part with a surprisingly large sum of money to make 
this possible. During the previous two months I had 
been wandering about the Yaounde forests in pursuit of 
a very large frog — a story told elsewhere in this book — 
which was a most engrossing but, alas, quite a profitless 
occupation. Not to put too fine a point on it, I was flat 
broke. I was, therefore, able with some difliculty to 
subdue my distaste for Vincent's proposal, my resent- 
ment of his patronising attitude, and my immediate dis- 
like of him personally. After an hour or two of persua- 
sion, in both liquid and verbal form, I agreed to take 
him into the forest. 

Vincent was a middle-aged man, stoutly built and with 
a dark, florid complexion. He assured me that ke had 
had considerable experience hunting in India and South 
Africa, but I noticed that his guns were new. When a 
suitable opportunity occurred I examined them. 

“Looks as though you’d better clean those rifles before 
you use them,” I told him afterwards. 

“Oh, you can do that,” he said casually. “You’ll find 
the brushes and things in one of my boxes.” 

I cleaned his rifles and saw to it that they were kept 
clean. A few days later we and our carriers were set 
down by lorry at a village thirty-five miles south-east of 
Yaounde, in a district I thought suitable for the hunt. 
Amugo, the village chief, was an old friend of mine and 

84 



was delighted to see me. He put two of his best huts at 
our disposal, and after I had settled in mine, he came 
along to discuss the hunt and ask. what help I would need. 
When these matters were attended to, he arranged a 
dance for our entertainment. This was of the usual pat- 
tern. The girls danced round in a circle, making undulat- 
ing, muscular movements of wonderful skill and grace, 
punctuating the dance by clapping their bent arms 
against their sides, and chanting all the time. The music 
was provided by a dozen young drummers, who sat on the 
gi’ound behind the girls, with long tvooden, skin-covered 
drums, which they beat with the palms of their hands. 

Vincent sat on one side of me and Amugu on the 
other. Vincent was drinking heavily from a bottle of 
whisky, and when it was almost half gone he asked me to 
join him. 

“No, thanks, Vincent. I only drink in town, but it 
might be a good idea to offer the chief a drink.” 

“What? Waste good Scotch on that dirty nigger? I'd 
watch it! Let him stick to his native rot-gut.” 

My own conversation with Amugu had taken place in 
his own language, but he knew enough English to under- 
stand that he was being abused. I told Vincent to be 
careful what he said, but I got cursed for my trouble. 
I was about to leave him in disgust, when he staggered 
to his feet and reeled among the girls, kicking up his legs 
and grinning in a drunken parody of their dance. After 
that he started chasing them, grabbing at their bare 
breasts, trying to tear away their Little bunches of leaves, 
and yelling that he would give them wonderful presents 
if they came to his hut. 

Native hospitality in West African villages is liberal 
and uninhibited. It is believed that no man can or should 

85 



sleep without a woman, and accordingly every guest, 
whether black or white, is offered a suitable companion. 
The chief will be surprised but not insulted if she is re- 
fused. However, Vincent’s behaviour, which would have 
earned him at least six months in any European police 
court, was considered thoroughly offensive, but since he 
was a white man, and supposedly a friend of mine, the 
chief’s only action was to complain to me. 

Vincent shouted and struck out at me when I tried to 
drag him to his hut, but finally he gave in and slunk off 
in a foul humour to his bed, cursing and belching as he 
went. I could hear him moving about for a long time 
afterwards, but I fell asleep before I could make up my 
mind to get up and see what he was about. I rose very 
early next morning to make preparations for the hunt, 
and surprised two young girls sneaking out of his hut 
wearing headcloths and beads they had certainly lacked 
the night before. Vincent came out for breakfast an hour 
later and I asked when he wished to move into the forest 
after his gorilla. 

“When I’m ready I shall tell you,’’ he said, and turned 
to walk away. 

“If you fool about with the girls like that,’’ I told him, 
“you’ll be in trouble. Do you realise that if the chief 
makes a complaint to the District Officer you’ll go out of 
the Cameroons on your ear? Don’t depend on me to 
back you up.” 

He flushed, told me that if I did not mind my own 
business he would have me run out of the country, and 
walked off. I had half a mind to go back to Yaounde and 
leave him to the mercy of Amugu, who would not be so 
forbearing in my absence, but I did not relish the 
thought of a client ending with a spear through his ribs. 

86 



Anyway, I had a duty to him, having accepted his 
commission. 

Consequently I hung about the village for a few days 
waiting for him to tire of the girls, which he did quickly 
enough. One morning he came into my hut, wearing the 
sort of hunting kit that Hollywood might have dreamed 
up. It consisted of heavy leather boots, reaching to his 
knees; smart cord jodhpurs and khaki bushcoat; a brand- 
new leather belt and bandolier, both crammed with cart- 
ridges; an enormous pair of field glasses; and a hunting 
knife about the size of a cutlass. 

“We’re leaving to-day,” he announced. “Have you got 
the carriers ready?” 

"Good heavens, no! How on earth could you expect 
me to, without knowing when you wanted to leave?” 

His face burned bright again. “If you knew your 
job,” he shouted, “you’d have them ready to move at any 
time. What do you think I’m paying you for? If those 
rotten niggers aren’t ready by ten, I’ll use my boot on 
their backsides.” 

The “niggers” weren’t ready by ten, but I managed to 
get the safari moving by noon and exercised as much 
restraint as I could on Vincent’s footwear. He had a tepoy 
— a sort of hammock — ^and eight men were detailed to 
carry him. His feet hung out on either side, and he used 
them freely to prod the men in front. Consequently they 
moved well ahead of the rest of us, and it was difficult 
for the other carriers, with heavy loads on their heads, 
to maintain such a pace. I always stopped at intervals 
when on the march to let my carriers drink, wash them- 
selves down in a convenient stream, and have a rest and 
a smoke. It was impossible to do this while Vincent 
moved so fast, but I had no intention of abusing the men. 

87 



If they were treated like that they would give trouble, 
and with every justification. I tJrercfore left them and 
caught up with Vincent myself. Before I could open my 
mouth he began raving at me for being so far behind. He 
said he had never known such a slow safari. 

It was obviously time for a show-down, so I did not 
answer him directly. Instead, I ordered the carriers to 
put down his tepoy, speaking in pidgin. Vincent coun- 
tered by threatening them with murder if they did, and 
for a moment they were too confused and frightened to 
know which of us to obey. Then I repeated the order in 
their own language and with broad grins they promptly 
obeyed, dropping Vincent none too gently on the ground. 
Down there he looked very foolish indeed. 

I caught him by the lapels of his jacket and yanked him 
to his feet. I explained that he had obviously never 
been on any kind of safari before, and that if he was not 
prepared to accept my command of the present one I 
would go back to Yaounde, leaving him on his own. This 
frightened him, for he had good reason to lack confidence 
in his ability to handle the villagers, and he calmed down 
considerably. There was no need, he said, for me to lose 
ray temper, and he had never for a moment wished to 
challenge my command. So long as he got his gorilla, 
he would be quite satisfied to leave all the arrangements 
in my hands. He got back into the tepoy and went black 
in the face when he saw that the men were laughing at 
him, but he said no more and we continued at a more 
reasonable pace. 

Later in the day we found a good site and made camp. 
Soon afterwards, Vincent and I, with two gun-bearers, 
left to explore the forest. In his heavy boots, Vincent 
made as much noise as a rhino, and kept chattering in a 

88 



loud voice. Thus every creature for miles around was 
warned of our approach and we saw nothing. When I 
suggested that it tvould be wiser to move with as little 
noise as possible, Vincent assured me that he knew what 
he was doing, for he had many times stalked impala in 
South Africa. Soon he was grumbling that I had shown 
him nothing to shoot, let alone a gorilla. The gun-bearers 
were disgusted. 

“This white man fool too much,” said one of them- 
“We no fit look nothing this kin’ fashion.” 

Vincent heard him and stvung round with fist raised to 
strike the man. As he did so, he spotted a monkey sitting 
in a tree some way off, and with a wild shout he bounded 
off after it. He disappeared and presently three shots 
from his heavy rifle shook the forest. The two gun- 
bearers were sitting on the ground, rocking with 
laughter, while I tried hard to keep a straight face. Sud- 
denly there came another shout from Vincent, this time 
of a very different nature. 

“Mer field! Merfieldl God Almighty man, come here 
quick! Merfield! Merfield!” 

We ran after him and found him up to his waist in the 
deep, stinking mttd of a small swamp, and sinking fast. 
To the uninitiated eye it looked firm enough on top, and 
only the nature of the vegetation it supported told of 
the death-trap beneath. Vincent, hot in pursuit of his 
wretched monkey, had run straight into it. 

Resisting the temptation to let him sink until the mud 
reached his chin, I cut some stout lianas and using these 
as ropes we soon hauled him out. His lovely “bush-kit” 
was ruined, and the mud inside his boots had glued them 
firmly to his feet. All three of us took turns to tug, but 
we could not move them. Finally I got him to lie on 

89 



his back, with his legs vertically in the air, so that the 
mud would ooze out slowly. He looked, and must have 
felt, perfectly ridiculous, and as his fear evaporated, 
anger took its place. When we got back to camp he went 
straight to his tent and sitlked there until next day. 

Much to my relief, he then asked me to look for gorillas 
alone. Five miles from the camp I picked up the tracks 
of a fine young family, and watched them until I decided 
they were too precious for Vincent to destroy. Later, I 
found a solitary bull, and the moment I saw him I realised 
that a bullet from Vincent’s rifle would be a mercy to 
him. He was very old, with a badly deformed left leg, 
and from the way he charged me at sight, I guessed that 
pain had given him a bad temper. I was not surprised to 
find, from teeth marks on vegetation he had chewed, that 
his teeth were in a terrible condition, as they often are 
with very old apes. He was probably in constant pain 
and what remained of his life would not be very pleasant 
for him. 

Vincent was nowhere to be seen when I returned with 
my report, but my gun-bearer said that he had found a 
village nearby and had gone there in search of girls. 
When he returned he was towing a giggling mammy 
behind him. Without a word to me he shooed her into 
his tent, let down the flap and stayed there until next 
morning. This went on for days, and I could get no 
sense out of him at all. At last I went off again by myself 
and shot the old gorilla. The boys carried it back and 
laid it at Vincent's feet. At first he was furious, but later 
he asked me to take a photograph of him with the animal. 
For this he posed in full bush-kit, holding a gun across 
the crook of his arm, and with one foot on the gorilla. 
By now he had had quite enough of the forest and its 


90 



discomforts, and it was not difficult to persuade him to 
return to Yaounde. 

He gave a party in the bar a few nights after our return, 
but I was not invited. In Yaounde, as in any other toxvn, 
an appreciative audience is always to be bought for the 
price of a few drinks. Vincent had the gorilla skin 
spread out on the floor beside him, and was entertaining 
his guests with a graphic account of how he shot the 
animal. 

At the other end of the room I sat with a group of old 
friends, including Sam Barton, a trader who had formerly 
been a Liverpool policeman. Sam was a veritable giant 
of a man; simple, forthright, and with a heart of gold. 
After expressing his di.sgust of Vincent, he asked me 
about my fees. 

“That skunk paid you yet, Merfield?” 

“Not a franc! He says I spoilt his gorilla skin when I 
preserved it, and that it’s rotten already. As a matter of 
fact it is. His boy tells me he’s made a mess over it half a 
dozen times when he’s been drunk. I don’t know of any 
preservative against that kind of thing! ’’ 

“But haven’t you taken any action against him?’’ 

“No thanks! I’d rather Now look here, Sam ” 

I broke off as he rose to his feet and strode across to 
Vincent. 

Before I could stop him, he had cleared Vincent’s table 
of glasses and bottles with one sweep of his arm, hoisted 
him to his feet by the shirt front, and placed before his 
face a fist as big as a gorilla’s. Sam was always direct in 
his manner. 

“Are you going to pay Merfield?” he demanded. 
Vincent gasped and tried to fight him off, but he was held 
like a baby. Sam repeated the question, shaking the un- 

9 * 



fortunate man until his teeth rattled, and that proved 
quite effective. 

T en minutes later, feeling rather dazed, I was buying 
Sam a drink, my wallet stuffed with notes. Vincent 
hurried off at once, leaving the gorilla skin behind, and 
left for Douala on the coast by first train next day. I never 
saw him again. 

To Sam and the rest of them some sort of celebration 
was clearly called for. After Vincent left the bar we began 
a party of our own, and this was well under way when 
a most unexpected, almost ludicrous interruption 
occurred. A tall, broad-shouldered man, with a white, 
neatly-trimmed beard, entered the room and after a 
few words with the bar-tender, came across to our 
table. 

“I believe one of you gentlemen is Fred Merfield," he 
said courteously; and when I had identified myself, he 
went on : “I’m here on a shooting trip after gorillas and 
I’m looking for a guide and hunter. Several people have 
mentioned your name. If you are interested, perhaps we 
could have dinner together and discuss it.’’ 

The idea of accepting another client after my experi- 
ence with Vincent struck me as so amusing that I almost 
burst out laughing. For a moment I could think of 
nothing to say and the man, perplexed, shifted uneasily 
and gave me a stern, puzzled look. 

He began again: "My name is Powell-Cotton. . . 

“Powell-Cotton? Major Powell-Cotton?’’ 

“That’s right, I . . 

But I gave him no time to continue. I rose at once 
and shook him by the hand. Here was a man I had 
heard a great deal about, and never thought I would be 
fortunate enough to meet. Major P. H. G. Powell-Cotton 

9 « 



was a world-renowned naturalist and big game hunter, 
perhaps the greatest of his day. He had already hunted 
in Tibet, Ladak, Kashmir, northern and central India, 
and in Abyssinia, the Congo and many other parts of 
Africa. His museum at Qucx Park, Birchington, Kent, 
contained one of the finest collections in the world and 
the largest collection of big game ever shot by one man. 
Now here he was in the Cameroons, and seeking my 
services. I could imagine no greater honour. 

“When do you want to leave?” I asked him. 

“Now wait a minute! Hadn’t we better discuss it 
first? Perhaps if your friends could excuse you for an 
hour we can have a chat.” 

We did; and in that hour a friendship was formed 
which was to last until Powell-Cotton’s death in 1940, 
and which was to prove of the greatest advantage to us 
both. It tvas from him that I learned the difficult and 
delicate business of preserving skins and skeletons so that 
they could be of greatest value to science; he it was who 
brought order and system into my hitherto haphazard 
collecting, and who put me in touch with museums and 
other scientific institutions in many parts of the world. 
Whereas before I had sought only those animals whose 
rarity and mystery had casually attracted my attention, I 
now began to learn what scientists wanted, and, which 
was more important, why it was wanted. 

Gorillas were the main object of Powell-Gotton’s visit 
to the Cameroons, though he wanted many other animals 
as well, and he was anxious to set off after them as soon 
as possible, for his time was limited. I told him I knew 
of a very promising area, and that I could be ready to 
leave early next morning. In the bar, at the other end 
of the hotel, we could hear my party in full swing. 

95 



Powell-Cotton smiled, and cocked his head to one side, 
listening. 

“But aren’t you going back to your friends?" he asked. 

“Yes, but don’t let that worry you. I’ll be here at six 
in the morning 1 ” 

“I doubt it," he said drily, with twinkling eyes, “but 
when you are fit to travel, I shall be waiting.” 

I returned in high spirits to my friends, and then the 
party really got going. It was not until 3 a.m. that I 
remembered my promise to Powell-Cotton. I went home 
at once, had a cold bath and swallowed three prairie 
oysters in rapid succession. I woke my cook, Atanaga, my 
house-boy, Sumba, and told them to be waiting for me 
outside the hotel with all my guns and camping kit by 
5.30. Then I knocked up a friend in another part of the 
town and, after a little persuasion, managed to bon'ow 
his lorry. At 6 a.m., precisely, I knocked at Major Powell- 
Cotton’s door. 

He was surprised that I was punctual, since the noise 
of our party had kept him awake all night. But he was 
soon ready, and at 7.30 precisely we were bouncing up 
and down on the back of the lorry as we were driven 
along the dusty, bumpy Akonolinga road to the village 
where I had taken Vincent. Amugu, the chief, bore me 
no grudge because of Vincent’s behaviour and readily 
supplied us with carriers. This time I decided to try 
another district and we marched for a whole day through 
hilly forest to the village of the Paramount Chief 
N’Vondo, whom I had known and respected for years, 
N’Vondo was a highly intelligent man, much loved and 
always obeyed by his people. He owned a big wooden 
house, with several bedrooms and deep, cool verandahs, 
and he at once put it at our disposal. 

94 



As I expected, there were many gorillas in that neigh- 
bourhood, but N’Vondo had his own ideas about hunt- 
ing them. He told us that a family of gorillas had been 
laying waste his plantations — “Plenty too much N’Gi 
chop too much for farm” was how he put it — and arrange- 
ments had already been made to round them up. 

I was most distressed to hear this, for native round-ups 
are appalling affairs. The skin and flesh of a gorilla are 
very tough. If you poke a big one with your finger — 
which I do not recommend — you will find that he has 
the consistency of shoe-leather. Against an animal like 
that, the natives’ spears are feeble weapons, for they do 
not pierce deeply. Spearing a gorilla to death therefore 
takes a long time and many spears. Moreover, the native 
is not interested in killing the animal cleanly and 
quickly. He is a savage, who desires the pleasure and 
satisfaction of revenge, and often mutilates the animal 
before killing it. Unhappily, little can be done to stop 
this cruelty. The tribes are fiercely independent, and if a 
white hunter’s bullet were to rob them of their fun, a 
. stray spear might easily come his way — an accident of 
course. In this part of the Cameroon forests, round-ups 
were fairly frequent. They also sometimes took place in 
the gorilla country of the Mendjim Mey, where I lived 
later, but there, by a little subterfuge, I was able to stop 
the mutilation of the animals altogether. 

A gorilla round-up requires the services of many men. 
During the day and night after our arrival, N’Vondo’s 
drummers were constantly in action calling the people 
from miles around. Some of the replies came from vil- 
lages so far away that their drums were scarcely audible, 
at least to us. The men were told to assemble at a pre- 
arranged spot and drum signals were sent to N’Vondo as 

95 



each contingent was ready to start. Many parties of 
villagers passed our camp, the men armed with bows and 
arrows, spears and cutlasses, and their women carrying 
baskets of food. They were full of enthusiasm for the 
hunt, Mfhich meant not only a feast of gorilla meat, which 
is highly prized, but relief from animals which, in a 
couple of hours, were capable of destroying half an acre 
of bananas or plantains. 

N’Vondo told us that a gorilla family had made their 
beds near a foot-path, which was not a convenient situa- 
tion to round them up, though he intended to try. Later, 
trackers came in and reported that a severe thunderstorm 
which had raged during the night had made the animals 
restless, and they had twice moved their quarters, thus 
frustrating N’Vondo’s plans. He took us to see the 
damage the animals had done. No wonder the villagers 
were angry 1 The plantation we examined was barely a 
hundred yards from an inhabited hut, yet the gorillas 
had been bold enough to destroy it almost entirely. 
Plantains in full bearing had been broken down and torn 
to pieces, but the fruit was untouched, for the gorillas 
preferred the pith of the stems. Nearby were the family’s 
beds, made of elephant grass bent over to form a springy 
mattress about two feet six inches above the ground. 
Dried grass had been placed on top. Powell-Cotton was 
anxious to preserve one of these beds for the gorilla group 
he wanted in his museum, and we chose the biggest, 
presumably that of the Old Man. It was first photo- 
graphed from several angles, then bound together with 
lengths of liana, and finally removed bodily by cutting 
away the stems beneath. Swarms of black ants hampered 
this work and there were frequent yells as one or other 
of us fell victim to their strong, sharp nippers. The bed 

96 






CouHesy Powell-Colton Alusmm 

The Court Jester of Chamba wiesthng with a pet hyena. This 
animal has jaws capable of crushing the bones of an ox 


was crated and shipped to England, where it was in the 
Powell-Cotton museum for several years. 

I could not believe that one family of gorillas had done 
so much damage, and I soon discovered that there were, 
in fact, several families in the neighbourhood. For twelve 
days they evaded N’Vondo’s efforts to encircle them. 
Finally he split up his men into four groups, each 
deputed to follow a separate family and so signal when 
they were in a position convenient for the round-up. One 
of these parties came upon a solitary male, who attacked 
and was wounded by the men. The animal made off at 
once, but was followed and fired on by a tracker who 
owned an ancient rifle. Of the eight shots fired, two were 
said to have found their mark. This information was 
tapped out by drums, and Powell-Cotton and I went off 
to try to track the wounded animal. On our way, we met 
the hunters returning, and were told that the gorilla was 
travelling fast and making for the main forest, where 
there was no hope of overtaking it. 

At three o’clock one morning, N’Vondo woke us and 
said that a gorilla family had been found in a suitable 
locality and that the round-up would take place that 
day. With the chief as our guide, we set off at once, 
travelling by lantern-light for six or seven miles along a 
muddy forest path, as slippery as a greasy pole. After 
crossing a rickety wooden bridge, most of which was 
rotten, and going along a newly cut path through dense, 
leafy undergrowth, we came upon the assembled hunters 
about six o’clock, just as it was getting light. 

There was no sign of the gorillas, or for that matter of 
anything else — for the forest was too thick to see more 
than a few yards ahead — ^but we were assured that the 
animals were there, encircled by the waiting hunters and 
ocp/991 — o 



their attendant womenfolk. Everyone now began to work 
furiously, clearing a circular band five or six yards wide 
around the trapped animals. On the inner perimeter of 
this, a tall rough fence of five-foot stakes, stuck into the 
ground at two-foot intervals, was rapidly constructed. 
Lengths of creepers and bundles of palm-leaf ribs were 
brought to lash them together, and the fence was 
strengthened by ties attached to tree-trunks. Finally, 
leaves and branches were piled against it to give it a 
more solid appearance. 

While this work was going on, numbers of spearmen 
stood on guard in case the gorillas should break out and 
make a dash for freedom. The women marched round 
the cleared circle, singing and making an incredible din 
with drums, bells, rattles and empty kerosene tins. Some 
of them were still carrying their lanterns and their 
baskets of food. The most conspicuous figure of all was 
the witch-doctor, who gravely stalked round inside the 
fence, tootling on a situtunga horn which had a pad of 
“medicine” attached to it. With his left hand he made 
gestures which would, he believed, keep the gorillas 
quiet until the fence was complete. Then, with the help 
of his small son, he dug a hole in the ground, and buried 
various roots and oddments. These were charms to keep 
the gorillas from charging through at that spot, which 
was a much-used gorilla path. They were all quite con- 
vinced that this would work, and the path remained 
entirely unprotected throughout the round-up. The 
gorillas, in fact, did try to break through the circle several 
times, but they never tried that route, which was the 
most obvious one for them to take. 

N’Vondo, who always wore European clothes, was 
dressed in a trench-coat, intended for a considerably 

98 



larger man. Followed by his cup-bearer, who supplied 
him with palm-wine, and his cook, whose responsibility 
was snacks, he supervised all tliese operations. By now 
Old Man gorilla was making his presence known by 
repeated, deep-throated growls, and every time he 
growled he was answered by renewed efforts from the 
drummers and the shrieking women. 

Towards nine o’clock all preparations were completed, 
and within the fence the men began to widen the cleared 
ring. They were guarded by a line of spearmen and 
three or four “shootmen" who were armed with elderly 
firearms of various kinds. The area of bush hiding the 
gorillas slowly diminished, and several times we caught a 
glimpse of the Old Man, as he made half-hearted attempts 
to lead his family through to freedom. Each time he was 
beaten back by the spears and a crescendo of noise from' 
the women. 

We could not, of course, see what was happening on 
the other side of the ring, and it was there that the first 
real action began. A female gorilla, deserting her baby, 
had tried to break through and had been speared to 
death. The youngster was still alive and was brought to 
me, unharmed but very frightened. Powell-Cotton hur- 
riedly bought it, and our own carriers took it back to the 
village with strict instructions to preserve it alive. Powell- 
Cotton had handed over his rifle to his gun-bearer and 
was using his cin^-camera when a young male broke out 
of the jungle on our right, and stood for a moment 
between him and me. I was afraid to fire for Powell- 
Cotton was directly in my line of sight, but one of the 
native shootmen had no such scruples. Fortunately he 
was a good shot, on that occasion at least, and it was the 
animal, not Powell-Cotton, who fell dead. 


99 



There were more shots and yells and everyone was 
pointing upwards. Climbing a big tree in the centre of 
the bush was another female, with her baby clinging to 
her back. Two spears projected from her left side. In 
her fear she grew careless, transferred her weight to a 
branch not strong enough to support her, and came 
crashing to the ground. Spears, cutlasses and several shots 
from the old guns finished her off, but even when she was 
dead they could not resist the delight of stabbing and 
slashing at her body. Powell-Cotton, by dint of shouting 
'and threatening, managed to rescue the baby unharmed, 
but at grave risk to himself, for the people were beside 
themselves with excitement and in no mood to be argued 
with. 

The next gorilla to show itself was also a female. She 
came out of the bush like a rocket and charged straight 
through the line of spearmen. There were three spears 
sticking in her back by the time she reached the fence, 
but she got over all right and disappeared. Hunters were 
sent after her, but they came back later without having 
found the animal, and I have no doubt that she escaped 
and would have recovered from the spear-wounds. 

The death of the Old Man was one of the most terrible 
things I had ever seen. He had tried to get out on the 
opposite side and we were attracted there by the yelling 
of the spearmen. Running round, we found the poor 
beast sitting in the undergrowth, as I had seen gorillas 
do so often before in more happy circumstances, and 
there were at least a dozen spears projecting from his 
chest, back and sides. Making no attempt to retaliate, he 
was just sitting there, rocking to and fro as more spears 
were thrust home at close quarters; his mouth was wide 
open, crying shame on his tormentors. The gorilla’s 


lOO 



anguish was too much for me and I put up my rifle to 
shoot, caring nothing for the consequences, but before I 
could fire a native stepped forward between me and the 
stricken beast. Three or four more spears hit the gorilla 
and then another man, armed with a heavy club leaned 
forward, and slowly, methodically, began clubbing him 
to death. 

Altogether the family had numbered nine. There was 
the Old Man, three females — two of them mothers of the 
youngsters we had captured — and one young male tvhich 
the natives had hacked to pieces, severing his arms and 
legs. Two others had climbed the fence and escaped. 
Several natives were injured. The man with the club 
had a cut to the bone just below his knee, from his last 
encounter with the Old Man. Another hunter had a 
superficial wound on the thigh, inflicted by a gorilla’s 
sweeping finger-nails, and a third had had his hand 
bitten. One of the spearmen had been wounded by his 
own comrade, who accidentally thrust a spear through 
the flesh of his left thigh. In order to get out the barbed 
head, it had to be pushed all the way through and out 
the other side, like a fish-hook, but although the pain 
must have been terrible, the man did not so much as 
wince while this was being done. 

It was late evening before the dead gorillas were 
brought in. Last of all came the Old Man, whose great 
weight required relays of four men at a time. I managed 
to keep the excited people away from the animals for a 
time while Powell-Cotton took photographs and made 
measurements and notes of scientific value. Some of the 
skins were too badly damaged by spear cuts to be of any 
use to us, but we bought the others, and all the skeletons, 
from N'Vondo — at rather a stiff price — and shipped 


101 



them home to England. While the villagers made a feast 
of the gorilla meat, Powell-Cotton and I worked like 
slaves to preserve the skins and skeletons. The witch- 
doctor, too, had his hands full, filling his magic horn 
with gorilla blood and busying himself with other 
obscure and curious activities to ensure the success of 
future hunts. None of the women joined in the feast, for 
gorilla meat is forbidden to them. 

When we had the gorilla skins cleaned, laid on frames 
and left to dry slowly, Powell-Cotton and I settled down 
= for a rest and a smoke, and we began swapping tales of 
our experiences with animals. He told me of the time 
when he was badly mauled by a lion. The beast had 
knocked him down and was tearing at his back, when, 
with tremendous courage, two natives attacked it with a 
whip and a stick. The Nubian askari took advantage of 
this distraction to shoot the lion at close quarters and 
Powell-Cotton was dragged free. This lion is still on 
exhibition in the Powell-Cotton Museum. 

“And what about you?” Powell-Cotton asked me. 
“Plow did you get out here in the first place?” 

"Well, my father apprenticed me to a wholesale 
drapers, and I worked all day long in a gloomy basement 
near St. Paul’s. But I couldn’t stand that. I’d always loved 
animals and the open air. One day I saw an advertise- 
ment for an assistant on a plantation in German West 
Africa and I applied for the job. There were twenty 
applicants, but I was the only one who knew any 
German, which I had learned at school, so I got it. I was 
on my way before my parents realised what was happen- 
ing. That was in 1910.” 

“What was life like out here in those days?” 

“Oh, pretty wild and primitive. The plantation was 


10s 



British-owned, but the manager was a German who was 
almost always drunk. Our labourers were recruited 
from the bush-tribes. I remember one lot we had who 
were decimated by disease after they had been working 
with us for a few months. They thought there was an 
evil spirit about, so to propitiate it they tortured one of 
their men. They tied his arm horizontally over a slow 
fire, and when I found him there was only charred bone 
left up to the shoulder. I had no idea of surgery, but I 
knew I had to amputate somehow. The bone was so 
brittle, though, that it broke off when I touched it. There 
was nothing more I could do but make the poor chap 
as comfortable as I could until he died, which he did 
during the night.” 

“And hunting? How did you begin that?” 

“Sometimes I went off shooting birds and small game 
with the manager. Funny thing about him, though: 
when he was drunk he was a crack shot, but when he was 
sober, which was only in the morning, he couldn’t hit a 
haystack at twenty yards. Anyway, I began to realise that 
the forests round the plantation w'ere full of life, and I 
started to take an interest in the animals. One day I tried 
to shoot an elephant, but I made a mess of it and only 
wounded the poor thing. Then I met a professional 
hunter, a chap called Marcus, and he took me off on a 
hunting trip and taught me how to shoot big game. 

“Gradually 1 did more and more hunting, and found 
that it could be made to pay. Marcus told me a lot about 
gorillas — most of it nonsense as 1 discovered later — but I 
was sufficiently intrigued to put in a bit of research on 
the subject when I went home on my first leave. I was 
surprised that so little was known about gorillas, and 
when I came back I decided to find out for myself. Before 


103 



I could get very far the 1914-18 war disrupted everything 
and I joined the West Afidcan Frontier Force until the 
Germans were driven out of the Cameroons. When it 
was over I took up hunting as a full-time occupation and, 
whenever possible, I went looking for gorillas. Fve found 
some, as you know, but there’s a great deal of territory 
where they might live which I haven’t explored at all 
yet. Perhaps I will one day.” 

“What about the babies we rescued from the round- 
up? Do you think they’ll live?” 

“I doubt it. They’re eating out of my hand already, 
but they’ve had a terrible shock and young gorillas seem 
to lose heart when they are caught and caged.” 

And so it was. That night the little gorillas cried for 
hours, though they quietened down whenever I got up 
to comfort them, which was frequently. I had a large 
cage made as soon as I could, but they hated this so much 
that I let them run loose whenever I was there to watch 
them, and confined them by a long high net when I was 
not, Baby chimpanzees, caught in much the same way, 
show the very greatest interest in their surroundings and 
their captors; in fact they find life so interesting and 
amusing that they forget the tragedy of their capture in 
no time, and consequently thrive. But gorillas are very 
different : newly caught, they are suspicious, sullen and 
morose. When I put our two babies in the cage they 
simply turned their backs on the world, making no 
attempt to get out, and I could see that if they were left 
like that they would die in a day or two. Romping about 
in the compound, however, they seemed much happier, 
and while we stayed with N’Vondo they got on very well. 
Powell-Cotton made a motion film of them at play and 
this is now at the Powell-Cotton museum, Unfortunately, 


104 



we still had the long trek back to Yaounde before us, and 
for this there was no alternative to caging the young 
animals. Before we reached Yaounde they had both died. 

Our return, however, did not take place immediately, 
for Poivell-Cotton wished to get gorillas and other 
animals on his own. I suggested that he should take with 
him Abong Lube, one of N’Vondo’s most gifted hunters, 
whom I had employed several times myself. One of 
Lube’s many accomplishments was to call up duiker, the 
little forest antelope, by making a nasal sound which 
may be transcribed as “Nnnyo” — the “N” being long 
and drawn-out and the last syllable short and sharp. 
Duikers would come for miles through the bush in 
answer to this call. 

A few days after the gorilla round-up, our safari moved 
off into the main forest, with Powell-Cotton, myself, 
Lube and another tracker called Imbie keeping slightly 
ahead and casting about for gorilla tracks. For several 
days we found only monkeys, duiker and pigs. Most of 
the latter were red river pigs, but then we came upon an 
abandoned plantation and we noticed that pigs had 
been feeding on the leaves of Dioscorea, a kind of yam. 
We knew that only one kind of pig ate those leaves — the 
giant forest hog. We were both really excited, and with 
good reason, for this was a rare and lucky find. The giant 
forest hog is the biggest wild pig in the world, reaching a 
weight of 500 pounds. It was first heard of about the time 
that the okapi — that strange relative of the giraffe — ^was 
discovered, but it was not until 1904. that the reported 
existence of a huge black pig was finally confirmed. The 
animal can be readily distinguished from bush-pigs and 
wart-hogs by the pair of gigantic, warty excrescences 
below the eyes, which look like the fungus growth one 
ocp/991 — D* 


105 



sometimes sees on the trunks of decaying trees. The 
muzzle has a large terminal disc, and the whole body is 
covered with long black hair. All wild pigs are dangerous, 
but the giant forest hog is probably the worst, and is 
feared even more than the buffalo. Native women gather- 
ing w'^ood have been attacked without provocation, and 
the animal has no hesitation in charging a hunter. Its 
long, upward-curved tusks are deadly weapons. 

There were three of the pigs, and their tracks led us 
along a tunnel through the thick foliage of a plant 
resembling a giant arum lily, twelve feet high. Pushing 
our rifles before us we went forward on hands and knees, 
stopping to listen at intervals, for hearing was more 
reliable than sight in vegetation of that density. Powell- 
Cotton was leading, followed by the tracker Imbie, and 
when we suddenly heard a chorus of grunts and a great 
deal of scuffling, he threw himself into a sitting position 
with his rifle ready. The pigs a'ashed away from us, and 
we began to despair of coming up with them at all. Giant 
forest hogs are certainly the most difiicult forest animals 
to stalk, for they can travel great distances at an astonish- 
ing speed and are capable of hiding in bush so thick that 
it is impossible to approach them. 

We had half an hour’s rest and went off again, creeping 
along still more warily. Then I saw Imbie tap Powell- 
Cotton on the ankle and point behind him to the left. 
Leaning forward I could see what looked like an 
enormous black barrel bulging above the leaves. Slowly 
and with infinite caution, Powell-Cotton leaned back on 
his heels and sat down, bringing his Paradox to bear on 
the pig at the same time. Then he fired. There was a loud 
squeal and the animal spun round, rolled on its back, 
kicked convulsively for a second and then was still. The 

106 



pig had undoubtedly heard us coming, doubled back on 
its tracks, and was preparing to charge us when Irabie 
spotted him. 

Afterwards, Powell-Cotton, with Lube as tracker and 
gun-bearer, went off by himself in search of gorillas, 
while I followed with the main safari, shooting duiker 
occasionally to provide meat for the carriers, and looking 
after the skins. They found a solitary bull gorilla, and 
the three of them played a sort of folloxv-my-leadcr game 
for nearly a xveek, until the gorilla dropped xvith a bullet 
from the Major’s -256 Mannlicher in his skull. The 
animal was a young bull turned out of the family by his 
father, and not an Old Man turned out by his more 
vigorous son, but Poxvell-Cotton’s disappointment over 
this was quickly dispelled. He found yet another lone 
gorilla, and this time it was the full-groxvn bull he 
wanted. When I came up xvith him later in the day, he 
already had it half skinned. 

This marked the end of our safari and Powell-Cotton 
returned home. I was still smarting over the insults I 
had received from Vincent and Powell-Cotton’s warm 
appreciation of my management of the safari xvas there- 
fore doubly welcome. For my part, I had enjoyed every 
minute spent in the company of this cultured and 
courteous gentleman, for whose skill and knowledge my 
admiration had daily increased. While he was in England 
we kept up a continuous correspondence of mutual 
benefit and satisfaction. A fexv years later he came back 
to the Cameroons and together xve penetrated into the 
remote, independent Sultanate of Rei Bouba, in the far 
north of the country. The story of our journey there, of 
the animals and the strange, medieval people we found, 
is told in another part of this book. 

107 



CHAPTER V 


L'INSPECTEUR DE CHASSE 

There are usually so many village children watching 
what goes on in a "shootman's” camp, and always anxious 
to help, that at first I did not notice Coppers. Gradually, 
I became aware that I was being followed about by a boy 
of twelve, a sturdy, healthy-looking lad, with bright, 
intelligent eyes and a smile that never left his face. He 
seemed to anticipate my every want. If I stopped to pick 
up something, he darted from behind me, snatched it 
from the ground, and presented it to me with a shy, 
delighted grin. If my hand went to my pocket for a match 
to light my pipe, before I had a chance to get one out he 
was offering a burning stick from the fire. Wherever I 
went he was there, either trotting behind me like a little 
dog, or watching from a distance, his strong white teeth 
gleaming in an everlasting smile. 

“Who and what,” I asked at length, "is that boy?” 

Atanaga, my cook, did not know. Neither did 
N’Denge, my gun-bearer, nor any of the carriers. The 
boy had simply appeared one day and followed our 
safari. Sometimes he did odd jobs for Atanaga, and 
received scraps of food in return, but apparently he had 
no other means of support. No one knew his name, for he 
could not speak pidgin or any of the local languages, but 
it was believed that he had somehow drifted up from the 
Congo. 

“He no savvy English, no savvy we talk,” said Atanaga 

ro8 



disapprovingly. “We ’member say he come for Congo.’’ 

And that was all I ever found out about him. He 
listened anxiously while I made these enquiries and for 
once the smile had left his face. He looked forlorn and 
wretched standing there in his pathetic little scrap of a 
loin-cloth — his sole possession — and was obviously terri- 
fied that I was going to send him away. I told Atanaga to 
feed him up and give him work to do, and when the boy 
understood my intentions I was rewarded with a 
dazzling smile. 

He soon picked up a little pidgin and was sublimely 
happy in camp. Now and then I gave him centime pieces, 
which have holes in the centre. He never spent them, 
but threaded them on a string and hung them round his 
neck. Because of this and because he lacked a better 
name, I called him Coppers. 

One day I found him at the fireside busily engaged 
in fashioning a crude bow and some arrows. 

“What t’ing you do make. Coppers?" I asked. 

“I make t’ing for kill beef for Massa,” he answered; 
and then, more shyly, “I want be big shootman, like 
Massa.” 

A few days later he turned up with four large rats 
impaled on his arrows. I was impressed, for the rats were 
of an uncommon variety and their skins were valuable. 
I paid him for them, and afterwards began to reduce his 
domestic duties, much to the annoyance and jealousy of 
Atanaga, so that he could have much more time for 
hunting. He quickly developed into one of the most skil- 
ful hunters of small game I ever knew in all the years 
I spent in the Cameroons. Every day he returned with 
something new, either alive or dead. From rats, mice 
and small birds of infinite variety, he graduated to bush- 

109 



babies, pottos, monkeys and, on one occasion, a 
porcupine. 

Some of these he had shot with arrows, but many were 
caught alive either with his hands or with original and 
cleverly designed traps. One day he found a pangolin, 
that scaly, toothless, miniature dragon that feeds only on 
ants. I had no time for the difficult business of weaning 
it from ants to minced meat, the usual substitute diet for 
these animals in captivity, so it was released again into 
the bush, none the worse for its adventure. Some of the 
bush-babies and pottos were kept as pets; others were 
sold to a collector who wanted them for zoos in Europe 
and America. 

Coppers’ most astounding capture was a live and very 
large crowned eagle, a monkey-eating bird with a wing- 
span of nearly four feet. Covered with blood, he came 
limping into camp hugging the bird in his arms, and at 
first I assumed it was dead, for it was incredible that a 
small boy should be carrying so wild and dangerous a 
creature if it were alive. But it was alive, and N’Denge 
hurriedly pushed it into a box while I attended to 
Coppers’ wounds. 

The boy had been hiding in the undergrowth watching 
a rat-hole and waiting for its occupant to appear. On 
the low branch of a neighbouring tree the eagle was 
watching the same hole with much the same ideas in 
mind as Coppers. When the eagle pounced on the rat. 
Coppers pounced on the eagle, and in spite of being 
fearfully torn and lacerated by its sharp hooked bill and 
talons, he held on until it had exhausted itself, and 
then carried it off, to appear before me in bloody 
triumph. 

I did not want the eagle, for at that time I knew of no 


no 



way of disposing of it, but I could not break Coppers’ 
heart by letting it go immediately. So together we made 
it a fine roomy cage and presently it was taking meat 
from our hands. Coppers was delighted, and after a few 
days he tied a string to its leg and let it fly about outside. 
Not satisfied with tliat, he soon became convinced that 
the bird was sufficiently tame to be released altogether 
with no danger of its escaping. I must confess that I did 
not try to dissuade him from this, for I rather hoped it 
would fly away. It did; and I shall never forget the look 
of dismay on that little boy’s face as he watched his fierce 
friend circle higher and higher, and then soar away over 
the trees to be lost forever. 

But sorrow never lodged for long in Coppers’ cheerful 
heart. He was off again that evening, seeking new con- 
quests in the jungle he knew and understood so well. 
Already his boyish pleasure in killing had begun to yield 
to a nobler love and interest in the creatures he sought 
for, and he spent many hours watching birds, animals 
and insects for no other reason than his delight in living 
things. I gave him all the encouragement I could, for I 
imagined him in manhood as my ideal companion in the 
forest. 

Then one day Coppers went out into the bush and 
never came back. I sent everyone out looking for him, 
fearing that he might have stumbled upon a python, a 
leopard or a buffalo, and had been killed or badly hurt. 
We searched the bush for miles around, but we could find 
no sign of him or of any such encounter. I came to the 
conclusion that he had wandered off a long way and 
would rejoin the safari sooner or later. It would have 
been easy for him to find me, although I was now once 
more on the move, for the progress of a white hunter is 


111 



always widely known among the people, either by word 
of mouth or by “bush telegraph” — the big drums that 
are constantly tapping out news across the forests. But 
Coppers never returned. He disappeared as suddenly 
and mysteriously as he came, and none of us ever saw 
him again. 

In any case I could not wait for him at that time, for 
I was going into the gorilla country again, this time for 
the French Government, the most important commis- 
sion I had so far received. Soon after Powell-Cotton’s 
departure, I received a note asking me to call on the 
Inspecteur de Chasse, the Government official in charge 
of game conservation, who had arrived in Yaounde and 
wad staying at the rest-house reserved for travelling 
officials. Up to then, game regulations in the Cameroons 
had been very hazy and were seldom observed, but I had 
heard that new ones were to be introduced and more 
rigorously enforced. This had my full approval, but I 
knew I was suspected of ignoring the game laws, and I 
supposed that M. Bruno de Labourie, the Inspecteur, 
wished to lecture me on the subject. 

This was not so. In the following year, a big colonial 
exhibition was to be held in Paris and the Inspecteur had 
been asked to provide a gorilla group for the Pavilion de 
Chasse. Since he was supposed to he the chief game 
warden of the country I was surprised when he asked me 
where gorillas could be found and how I preserved my 
skins. The time was 1 1 a.m., when all Europeans in the 
Cameroons have an aperitif, yet no welcome clink of 
glasses greeted my ears, and it is a grave discourtesy for 
an official not to offer refreshment to his guest. I was 
thirsty and I was hot; therefore I could not help but 
notice the omission. 


113 



“Do you knowj monsieur, how skins are preserved?” 
I asked him. 

“But of course I Brine is by far the best preservative. 
Er . . . what do you use?” 

As a matter of fact I always used a patent preservative, 
proof against insects, moulds or bacteria, which preserves 
the full bloom and beauty of a fur for all time. But I 
wasn’t going to tell him that; not without an aperitif! 

“What are you going to put your gorilla skins in?” I 
countered. 

“Ah yes, 1 have some cans,” he said, pointing to the 
corner. 

There were two of them; galvanised cans about the 
size of small milk churns. 

"I see. So you are interested only in baby gorillas, 
M. Ulnspecteur}" 

“I don’t understand you.” 

“You will, when you try and get the skin of a full- 
grown gorilla into one of those little things.” 

I left the Inspecteur and strolled along to the hotel, 
where I made up for his deficient hospitality. For two 
or three months I heard no more of him. Then I was 
summoned to Government House by M. Marchand, the 
Governor of the Cameroons. 

“M. Merfield, I understand that some time ago 
L’Inspecteur de Chasse approached you and asked your 
advice on the collection of gorilla skins.” 

“That is so, your Excellency." 

“Unfortunately, the advice you gave him, whatever it 
was, has proved ineffective, for the gorilla skins he 
obtained were rotten by the time they reached Paris.” 

“But I gave him no advice.” 

“Never mind. I believe you have yourself successfully 



preserved many skins for museums and other scientific 
institutions. Would you, then, be prepared to accept a 
commission from my Government to procure suitable 
skins for the Colonial Exhibition next year?” 

“I would certainly consider it.” 

"Three gorillas are needed — a big male, a female and 
a youngster. The commission would not, however, be 
confined to gorillas. We shall also require numerous 
other animals — buffalo, antelope, leopards — in fact any 
and everything you can get.” 

“How much time can you give me?” 

“Three months.” 

"That’s not much. May I have until to-morrow to 
think it over?” 

“By all means. And if you decide to accept, as I hope 
you will, may I wish you the very best of luck.” 

We shook hands and I left him. Though I did not 
wish to seem over-enthusiastic, I had, in fact, already 
decided to accept, for I was delighted to have the oppor- 
tunity of serving the Government. Once I had done so 
my status would ever afterwards be high among the 
European officials and paramount chiefs throughout the 
country, and my future activities would therefore be 
made much easier. 

So, after a discreet interval, I accepted the commission 
and signed an agreement with the Governor. My 
preparations were complete in a few days and when I 
left Yaounde my safari was accompanied by an official 
escort in the form of two native policemen. Each was 
armed with a long-barrelled French rifle of the type 
called La Belle, which had magazines holding only three 
cartridges, and a heavy machete called a coup coup. 
These two men were of great value to me ; not only did 


114 



they lend my safari an unaccustomed prestige and 
authority, but they did most of the work of engaging and 
handling the carriers. Village chiefs are expected to 
provide earners for European travellers, and to feed 
carriers who come with them from other villages. They 
are paid, of course, but the negotiations are sometimes 
protracted, and it was a pleasant change to have all this 
done for me by the policemen. 

We went first to the village of Zembani, thirty-five 
miles down the Akonolinga road from Yaounde, and I 
stayed the night in the official rest-house. The policemen 
engaged ten carriers and we started in the morning at 
six o’clock. During the night there had been a violent 
storm with torrential rain, and the forest path was deep 
in greasy mud, so slippery that the carriers, with heavy 
loads on their heads, had great difficulty in keeping on 
their feet. The forest was saturated, every leaf dripping 
like a leaky tap. At several points the path was blocked 
by great trees, torn from their roots by the storm, and it 
took hours of hard work to cut a way round them. 

Towards mid-day, N’Denge, my gun-bearer, who knew 
this district better than I did and was acting as guide, 
led us off on to a new path. I saw no reason why we 
should change our direction at all, so I stopped him and 
asked what was wrong with the other path. 

“No go that way, Massa. There be bad bush what 
dem big beef burn with dem fire what come out of him 
mouth.” 

This was inexplicable to me, so I left the safari and 
went back to see what “bad bush” looked like. No 
wonder N’Denge wanted to avoid it I There was an area 
of perhaps two or three acres where the forest was quite 
dead. The giant trees stood gaunt and leafless against 

116 



the sky, their vast trunks blackened as though by hre. 
Creepers still clung to them, but they were dead and 
withered too, and so was the thick undergrowth below. 
Nothing lived in this vast sepulchre; there were no birds, 
monkeys or insects, nor anything gi-een and growing. It 
tvas a silent, eerie place, and I could well imagine 
N’Denge’s fertile mind peopling it with legions of ghosts 
and evil spirits. Superficially at least it looked as though 
the forest had been scorched to death. Yet how could this 
be in the rain forests of West Africa which are too wet for 
forest fires? When I got back I asked N’Denge for his 
opinion, and this was what he told me ; 

“Many years ago, when my big-big-big-father (great- 
great-grandfather) was a suckling child, a great animal 
roamed this country, terrifying the people. It was like 
a giant lizard, with scales and a long pointed tail. Out 
of its mouth came fire and smoke, and when it roared the 
forest was burned and blackened by its breath. After a 
time it went away, and this is one of several places where 
the forest still bears the scars of its anger I ” 

Africans have a limited sense of time, and when a man 
speaks of the days of his big-big-big-father, he might 
mean anything from three to thirty generations ago. As 
for N’Denge’s giant lizard, what could this be but our 
old friend the dragon again, popping up in the heart of 
Africa? Many scholars have tried to explain why such 
myths are universal. It has been suggested that the 
dragon is our racial memory of the dinosaurs, but when 
those huge reptiles flourished in the primaeval swamps 
there were few mammals of any kind, and the world had 
many millions of years to wait before the earliest man 
made his first feeble appearance on the stage of life. 
Perhaps we are wrong about the disappearance of the 

ii5 



dinosaurs; perhaps a few of them lingered on in the rvarm 
damp forests of the tropics and were seen by early man. 
They did not breathe fire of course, and in any case could 
not have been responsible for N’Denge’s “bad bush”. I 
could not stop to make a thorough investigation, but I 
think that the death of the forest was due to a simple, 
natural cause. The ground there was very wet — not like 
the wetness caused by rain, but soggy, like a marsh. I 
believe that a stream had changed its course, waterlog- 
ging the land and forcing up salts from the sub-soil in 
such quantity that the forest died. 

A year after this I discovered the work of another 
"dragon”, hundreds of miles away on the Sanaga river, 
among a tribe who had no contact with N’Denge and his 
people. This time I was shown a rock, rising from the 
bed of the river. The rock was deeply and widely fissured, 
like a piece of cake with a slice cut out, quite unlike 
anything I had seen before. When I made enquiries, I 
was told that long ago a giant lizard had lived in the river. 
One day the rock had impeded its progress, and it had 
brought fire from its mouth to blast a way through. 

Other tales of legendary animals I heard from time to 
time in the Cameroons are worth recording. In the lakes 
of Tibati, in the Northern Territories, I was told of a 
water stallion, called Poutchou N’Dien. This was a horse 
that lived under the water. It was white, with black 
spots, and had red lips and a long flowing mane and tail. 
The nomadic Fulani tribes were said to tether their 
brood mares beside the water at night, to be served by 
the stallion. This curious tale has an identical counter- 
part in the T housand and One Nights^ where Es-Sindibad 
(Sinbad the Sailor) meets the grooms of King El-Mihraj, 
who “bring the swift mares, and tether them in this 

117 



island, every mare that hath not foaled . . . that they may 
attract the sea-horses”. 

In the N’Velle district of Yaounde I heard of another 
strange beast called the nzemendim or water leopard, 
and in this case I spent a good deal of time looking for it. 

Nzemendims were said to be leopards that lived in 
small rivers and frequently took women and children. I 
was shown tracks in the mud at the edge of a stream. 
They did not look like leopard spoor to me, but the mud 
was thin and fluid and it was difficult to tell. I tried 
tracking the animal, but failed, so I decided to sit up for 
it, and had a platform built in a nearby tree. 

I sat there night after night and saw and heard all 
sorts of creatures. Lemurs with glowing green eyes came 
and visited me in the branches, while below there were 
elephants, crocodiles, bush-pigs, porcupines and once a 
civet cat. I also saw a leopard, but it was young and 
ordinary and went nowhere near the water, and I could 
not believe it was a nzemendim. One morning, just as 
it was getting light, an animal swam rapidly upstream 
and landed on the opposite bank. The light was still 
poor, and all I could see was something furry, spotted 
and four-legged, so I fired. The animal spun round and 
dived back into the water. I thought it was lost, but 
when the sun rose and my men turned up, we found it 
dead and washed ashore a few hundred yards down- 
stream. It was a big dog-otter, a very old fellow whose fur 
had gone grey and blotchy, giving the appearance of 
spots. The natives would not admit that this was their 
nzemendim, and having no more time to spare I gave up 
and went home. 

Owing to N’Denge's detour away from the dead forest 
and the repeated halts to hack our way past fallen trees, 

118 



we did not reach our destination — the village of N’Vonde 
Manga — until well after dark, but we were received 
most hospitably and in a short time I was enjoying an 
excellent meal of groundnut soup and chicken. As was 
the custom, the chief asked me how many men I had, 
and then ordered the women to prepare a meal for them. 
Village food usually consists of cassava, groundnuts, 
sweet potatoes or plantains, spinach and fish or meat if 
available. Portions are placed on plantain leaves and 
laid in front of the traveller's tent, hut or rest-house for 
his inspection before being handed to the carriers. On 
this occasion the policeman attended to the food, and I 
was able to have my dinner and a palaver with the chief 
without interruption. 

The people here were of the N’Velle tribe, closely re- 
lated to the Yaounde. There were only about twenty- 
five huts in all, and I noticed that they were all placed on 
one side of the village street, while on the other side were 
plantations — an unusual arrangement. When I asked 
the reason for this, I was told that with the huts on one 
side and the plantations on the other, a close watch could 
be kept against marauding gorillas and red river pigs, of 
which there were many in the surrounding forest. The 
villagers had little skill as hunters and lived mainly by 
agriculture. The chief, however, possessed a gun and a 
“shootman” who knew how to use it. In this he was 
favoured by the Government. Chiefs who were lazy, 
corrupt and without control over their people were not 
permitted to have firearms, but those who kept their 
people well behaved and their plantations productive 
were, allowed to purchase one twelve- or sixteen-bore 
shotgun. 

I had had a long and tiring day, so I slept without a 

119 



break until seven next morning — very late for me. At 
that time I was awakened by the sound of two rifle shots, 
and still dazed with sleep I rushed out of the hut to see 
what had happened. Men were running down to the 
other end of the village, shouting “N’gi! N’gi! ” Atanaga 
was lazily making my breakfast. 

“What’s happened, Atanaga?” 

“Soldier done kill beef,” he answered shortly and 
without visible emotion. 

“What kin’ beef?” 

"No savvy, Massa.” 

I pulled on my shirt and trousers and went to have a 
look. Half-way down the little street I met one of my 
policemen. 

“I kill you one big N’gi,” he told me, smiling. “II est 
tres grand.” 

And “tr^s grand” the gorilla was. In fact he was one 
of the finest specimens I ever saw. I found him lying 
at the edge of the plantation no more than twenty yards 
from a native hut, with two bullet holes in his chest. 
The policeman told me that he had got up early and had 
gone down to the plantation, where, he had been told, 
gorillas frequently appeared. Climbing to the top of an 
ant-hill, he saw the gorilla only twenty-five yards away, 
standing upright and watching him. He fired twice and 
the animal fell dead. 

I had never heard of such an easy kill. This was 
obviously going to save me a great deal of trouble, for the 
gorilla was a young male in the prime of life — just what 
we needed for the exhibition — ^but I thought ruefully of 
the long and difficult hunts I had undertaken to get 
what the policeman had stumbled on by sheer luck. I 
was to become even more disgruntled during the three 



frustrating weeks I spent searching for the other gorillas 
to make up the required number. 

Much to Atanaga’s annoyance — for he had my break- 
fast ready — I began skinning the animal at once. Even 
with the help of my two mained “skinmen” this took 
three hours and another three or four hours were spent 
thinning the skin. Then we set it up to dry .slowly in the 
shade, a process taking two or three days. The popular 
idea that skins should be dried in direct sunlight is 
entirely wrong; many fine skins have been ruined by 
too-rapid drying and consequent shrinkage in the hot 
sun. My policeman cut the gorilla’s flesh into strips. 
Most of it he dried and afterwards took back to Yaounde, 
but with great condescension he distributed a few pieces 
to the meat-hungry villagers. 

One of the recipients of this bounty was a young lad 
who seemed to take more interest in hunting than his 
elders. Instead of eating it, he set up a trap and used it 
as bait. He told me that with this he hoped to catch 
duiker, of which there were several kinds in the forest. 
Now the idea of an antelope eating meat sounds as crazy 
as a cow chewing beef, but it is a fact that these herbi- 
vorous animals often eat meat — and rotten meat at that 
— if they get a chance. Yellow-backed duiker, the biggest 
of the group, are particularly susceptible to this perverse 
taste, and I have even found them chewing bones. For 
this reason, natives often set duiker traps where game 
has been killed, and if they kill an elephant they leave a 
few bones about as bait. 

Bay duiker and red river pigs will also eat meat, but 
I have never known giant forest hogs to do so. In the 
London Zoo many species of antelope have been known 
to eat meat, sometimes rats and occasionally sparrows. 


121 



which have been pinned to the ground by a quick move- 
ment of the hoof. 

To find the next gorillas, I sent several N’Velle scouts 
into the jungle. One of them came back before dark 
with the news that he had located a suitable family, and 
I decided to try for them early next morning. I set my 
alarm clock to go off at 3 a.m. and told Atanaga to have 
some sandwiches and a thermos of hot coffee ready “for 
middle night”. It was pitch dark when the alarm clock 
woke me, with heavy storm-clouds obscuring the moon, 
and very chilly. N’Denge was already awake and we 
roused the guide, one of the policemen and my two skin- 
men. Carrying hurricane lamps, we left the village and 
plunged into the forest. For over an hour we stumbled 
along after the guide and then he decided he had lost his 
way, so there was nothing to do but sit down and wait 
for dawn. 

At six o’clock we moved off again, and after a while 
the guide, tvith great deliglit, showed us eight gorilla 
beds and many aframoraum husks. The man was obvi- 
ously inexperienced, for the beds were at least four days 
old, and the gorillas who made them could have been 
miles away by then. N’Denge was disgusted. 

“Dis man lie,” he said. “Dem bed be old one. Dis 
man no savvy not’ing; he be member say shootman! 
(He only thinks he is a hunter.)” 

The N’Velle man was not to be out-done. “You 
Yaounde people ’member you savvy all t’ing,” he re- 
torted. “Flow you no take Massa for bush?” 

Thus challenged, N’Denge at once volunteered to 
find gorillas himself, and refused to allow me to come 
with him. While he was gone, I sat on a tree-trunk and 
suffered the attentions of clouds of sandflies and mos- 


132 



quitoes. Presently he returned, looking more cross than 
before. He could find no fresh trace of gorillas and was of 
the opinion that there weren't any for miles. I squashed 
what promised to be a lively quarrel between him and 
the guide and we trudged back to camp. 

Though there were no gorillas in that forest, the place 
was alive with monkeys of all kinds: blue-faced, putty- 
nosed, diana, mona and mangabeys. I was sorely 
tempted to catch a few of the youngsters and take them 
home, for they were always in demand by the zoo col- 
lectors from Europe and America who seldom hunted 
for themselves, but depended for their livestock on the 
work of white or native hunters. Unfortunately, I had 
no time for diversions of that kind; I had hardly begun 
my work for the Government. Moreover, I already had 
quite a collection of pets and looking after them took up 
enough of my time. 

Back in camp I had two fox-terriers, a cat, a parrot, 
a white-collared mangabey called Red Top and a black 
and white hornbill called Horace. Most of these animals 
had been with me for years, and accompanied me 
wherever I went, even on safari. The cat, the parrot and 
the hornbill shared the same travelling box, perched on 
the head of a carrier, while the monkey sat on top. They 
were all allowed to run about loose in camp and they 
always shared the same plate of food in perfect harmony. 
How strange that such oddly assorted animals should 
become so fond of each other 1 Every zoo keeper will tell 
you stories of friendships that spring up between animals 
of different species, friendships so strong that the animals 
are heart-broken if they are parted. 

The undisputed leader and mentor of ray gang was 
Horace the hornbill, who was almost as well known in 

133 



Yaounde as my horse Charley. He was a wise and wily 
old bird, very friendly towards people who were as 
respectful as he thought they should be, but the devil 
incarnate with people who were not. Even the monkey 
thought twice before pulling Horace’s tail-feathers, 
though now and then he could not resist the tempta- 
tion. Loud squawks from Horace and shrieks from Red 
Top made it known that this had happened and that 
'Red Top was being put in his place. 

Horace flewwith slow, dignified wing-flaps, his absurdly 
large beak turning enquiringly this way and that, and 
the sound he uttered was rather like the puffing of a 
locomotive. His long, sweeping eye-lashes were the envy 
of every lady who met him. He loved to sit on the back 
of a chair and catch tid-bits, which he did with marvel- 
lous dexterity. One day I threw him a nut, and to my 
surprise he tossed it from the tip of his beak into the 
back of his mouth and swallowed it without bothering to 
crack the shell. Birds have incredibly fast digestions and 
a few minutes later there was a tiny thud as the nut, 
still in the shell, left Horace’s other end and dropped to 
the floor. This gave me an idea. I fashioned a piece of 
wood into the shape of a tiny egg and threw it across to 
him. The same thing happened, and Horace promptly 
laid a wooden egg. Horace and I played that trick 
hundreds of times afterwards, much to the astonishment 
of my friends, and I believe he enjoyed the joke as much 
as I did. 

Red Top, the monkey, was called after a brand of 
champagne which was popular in those days, and after 
his magnificent head of reddish hair. He always slept 
on top of my mosquito net, which made a wonderful 
hammock for him. It is not generally known that 

1S4 



monkeys, like geese, make excellent watchdogs, for they 
hear and comment on the slightest unusual sound. Red 
Top always warned me of the approach of any man or 
animal, even the servants he knew well. Sometimes, at 
my instigation, N’Denge or Atanaga w'ould pretend to 
attack me, and then Red Top would fly at them, scratch- 
ing and biting furiously until I called him off. 

When I left the forest for the savannah lands in pursuit 
of other animals for my Government commission, I 
decided that Red Top might find it too hot on the plains 
and would suffer from the lack of shade. I handed him 
over to N’Denge with instructions that he should be 
taken two or three miles into the forest and released 
among his own people. N’Denge performed his part of 
the task faithfully, but Red Top followed him back and 
refused to be shooed away. We tried to lose him several 
times, but he always came back, so at last I gave it up as 
a bad job and took him with me. Luckily he did not seem 
to feel the heat as much as I had feared, and he not only 
survived the trip but lived with me for many years after- 
wards and at last died, much lamented, of old age. 

Several animals, most of them young monkeys, came 
my way when I was with the N’Velle people, but I could 
not keep them, so 1 had them sent back to my house in 
Yaounde to be looked after until my return. Meanwhile, 
I had to find more gorillas, and N’Denge and I set off 
again into the forest. This time we stumbled on the 
worst patch of bush I had ever known. The trail was very 
narrow and on both sides there were trees with three- 
inch spikes that stuck out and tore at our clothes and 
flesh. Before we had gone far our hands were badly 
scratched. There seemed to be streams every few hundred 
yards, and we had to wade across, up to our waists in 

125 



raging flood water. After an hour of this we were 
thoroughly fed up, but our tempers sweetened a bit 
when we found a shallow stream with a sandy bed, along 
which we were able to walk ivith comparative ease. 

Half a mile upstream we heard a family of gorillas. 
There was a low growl, follo^ved by the sound of several 
animals pushing away from us through the bush. We 
left the stream and found a system of gorilla tunnels 
where the smell of the male animals was very strong. 
Soon we came to more open forest, and three or four 
hundred yards away we saw the bush being agitated by 
the movement of large animals. They were gorillas all 
right, and the tap-a-tap-tap of them slapping their bellies 
came to us clearly through the bush. Now and then we 
got a glimpse of their black hides as they ambled about 
under the trees, but there was no chance of a certain 
shot. 

I decided to try an experiment, and told N’Denge to 
slap the ground with his open hand, just as I had seen 
gorillas doing. To my astonishment one of the gorillas — 
probably the Old Man — immediately came forward in 
answer to this sound, but he caught sight of us and 
wheeled round and went back before I could get a good 
look at him. I tried this ground-slapping trick many 
times afterwards on gorilla hunts, and it always worked. 
The animals seem to be deceived into thinking that the 
sound is made by other gorillas and come forward to 
investigate. 

We waited for fifteen minutes, hoping that the 
gorilla’s curiosity would get the better of him and that he 
would come back, but nothing happened. N’Denge tried 
slapping the ground again, and sure enough this 
brought him forward, though this time more cautiously. 

136 



We could not see him, but we could follow his progress 
by watching the movement of the bush above his head. 
In order to encourage him I thought I would do a bit of 
slapping myself, but instead of hitting the ground, my 
hand touched something alive. Three movements then 
took place almost simultaneously : I withdrew my hand 
as though I had touched a live coal; the green mamba, 
whose tail I had slapped, whipped round and struck at 
me with his jaws gaping and glistening pink; and 
N’Denge, moving faster than either snake or myself, 
brought down his machete with a great thump that 
almost chopped the deadly serpent in two. 

That was the end of the day’s hunt for us all. The 
gorillas heard the sound of N’Denge’s machete and my 
own gasp of horror and surprise, and they made off as 
fast as they could. N’Denge decided it was time to go 
back to camp for a meal. All I could think of was my 
need for a rest and for a smoke: I had never been so 
close to certain and unexpected death. 

Following this incident I went out day after day, and 
though I always found gorillas, I could not get near them. 
It appeared that the village had once been much larger 
than it was at that time, for there were many abandoned 
plantations in the surrounding forests. Cultivation had 
been given up years before, and they were covered with 
low but very dense secondary growth, which I found it 
impossible to penetrate without making as much noise as 
a bulldozer. The gorillas seemed extraordinarily shy, 
making off at the slightest sound, and I guessed that the 
village shootman had been using his gun freely and none 
too accurately. Though the African is expert with spears, 
bows and cross-bows, he finds it difficult to learn how to 
sight a gun. That is why native trackers are usually 

127 



given shotguns to carry, for these, with their spreading 
pellets, do not require accurate aiming when used at 
close range. 

Time was getting short, so reluctantly 1 decided to 
give up tracking the gorillas and to try and drive them 
from their hiding-place. After consulting N’Denge and 
the policemen, I called on the village chief and asked him 
to provide me with “plenty man’’ for this task. The idea 
of a gorilla drive was new to him, but he was over-awed 
I by the presence of the policemen, and the promise of a 
big “dash” (a tip) for his co-operation presently decided 
him to give it a trial. 

The plantation I had chosen lay just below a range of 
low hills and was bounded on the east by a wide stream. 
This could be left unguarded, for gorillas will never 
cross water. On the north and west sides I intended to 
put my beaters, while on the south we would clear a 
ten-foot strip of jungle, where N’Denge and I would be 
waiting for anything that came out. 

At four o’clock on the appointed morning I led the 
entire village out into the forest — men, women and 
every child large enough to be capable of making a loud 
noise on demand. The forest was pitch-dark, so the vil- 
lagers kept chattering and singing to keep up their 
spirits, but there was no fear that they would frighten 
away the gorillas prematurely, for gorillas never move 
about before dawn. It took me a long time to get the 
excited crowd ranged in their appointed positions, and 
for them to understand that when they heard my whistle 
they were to make as much noise as possible by shouting, 
beating drums and rattling tin cans. 

Other men soon had the strip cleared on the soutli 
side, and were then sent back to join the noise-makers. 

is8 



The Public Pxecutioner ol 
Kci Eouba^ the silent city 
of the noith His victims 
were fiist stunned with the 
instrument m his right 
hand and then decapitated 
witli the axe 
{Cowim P Ulll CtillDil Ul/CfM/ ) 


A condemned slave in 
charge of the Lamido’s 
cxecutioncr-lion at Rei 
Boubii 

(C mle'i) PuuiH CnHoii Mnwiu) 





Dawn was just breaking when our preparations were 
complete. I blew my whistle, and at once, from across the 
plantation, came a noise that w^ould have brought down 
the walls of Jericho in half the time it took Joshua and 
the Israelites. The women shouted, the children 
shrieked, the men howled and beat their cans and drums. 
They were not able to move forward into the plantation 
because the bush was too dense, but I was banking on the 
row to make the gorillas decide to leave — and the only 
way they could go was past N’Denge and myself. 

N’Denge stood ten yards away from me on my left, 
armed with my twelve-bore shotgun, while I had my 
Mauser loaded and the safety catch off ready for any- 
thing that came out. For a long time nothing happened. 
I began to tliink I had failed again, and that the gorillas 
had left the plantation on the previous day. After an 
hour the villagers began to lose interest and their voices 
grew so hoarse that I feared the noise would die away 
altogether. My policemen, who had been sent along with 
the villagers to keep up their enthusiasm, must have 
noticed it too, for I heard them yelling encouragement 
and threats. This had the desired effect, and the noise 
grew louder again. 

I fully expected gorillas to show their uneasiness by 
screaming and beating their bellies, but the first sign 
that they were there at all came as a most unpleasant 
surprise. N’Denge was holding his gun loosely, pointing 
downwards, and was looking towards me, when a big 
male gorilla suddenly crashed out of the bush and swept 
him aside with a terrible blow full in the face. N'Denge 
was knocked flat on his back with blood streaming from 
his mouth and nose. It happened without warning and 
so quickly that I had no time to shoot and save N’Denge 
ocp/991 — E i^g 



from the attack, but I got the gorilla with a clean shot 
through the side of the head as he tried to get through 
the bush on the other side of the clearing. N’Denge was 
sitting on the ground, nursing his face and groaning 
quietly, but even then his only thought was for me. 

"Massa, look out; some time udder one go come out.” 

In fact a veritable procession of gorillas followed the 
Old Man. I shot a full-grown female and then a youngster 
two or three years old. The others — three young males 
and six or seven females, some with babies — I let go, for 
I had already exceeded my quota. 

N’Denge was badly shaken, but though he had lost his 
two front teeth and his face was badly bruised and 
swollen, no bones had been broken or serious damage 
caused. He made very little fuss about the injury — in 
fact I think he was rather proud of himself — and in a day 
or two he was as cheerful and efficient as ever. By the 
time we got back to Yaounde he had learned a trick of 
spitting out of the hole between his front teeth which 
was to stay with him for the rest of his life. 


130 



CHAPTER VI 


THE GHOST OF THE SANAGA 
GRASSLANDS 

The Sanaga grasslands may be haunted, as the Yaounde 
people say, but at least I can claim to have laid one of 
its phantoms. And I never killed more gladly nor with 
so great a feeling of pity. 

Now that I had gorillas for the Paris exhibition, the 
next task was to get leopard, buffalo, waterbuck and 
other antelope, and I decided to take a trip into the 
savannah country north of the Sanaga river, where these 
animals were plentiful. I wasn’t at all sure that my 
carriers would be keen on this trip, for although they 
were good men, the best I had ever had, they were forest 
dwellers who were unfamiliar with the grasslands, where 
they would miss the protection of the trees. They would 
be ill at ease among the ten-foot elephant grass, which 
blankets and distorts sound as fog or a snowstorm does, 
and they feared, too, the floating, downy seed-cases of the 
elephant grass, each carrying a tiny, wicked hook which 
scratches and poisons the flesh. Moreover, I had heard 
them telling tales about the Baboutu tribe, who lived on 
the grasslands, and who, they said, had a predilection for 
putting ju-jus on unwelcome visitors. Some ill-feeling 
between the Yaounde people and the Baboutus was 
understandable, for the Baboutus were of different stock 
and customs. It seems that many years earlier the 
Baboutus lived far away to the north, and were driven 

131 



south by Arab, Haussa and Fulani slavers. Eventually 
they took, refuge south of the Sanaga river, which the 
mounted slavers could not easily cross to reach them. 
They still wear long, flowing robes and retain many 
customs peculiar to North Africa. 

In spite of these consideration.s, my boys were delighted 
to hear of the proposed trip and begged to come with me, 
The attraction of the unlimited supply of meat my gun 
would bring them was, for the moment at least, irresist- 
ible. Game was hard to find and difficult to hunt in the 
forest, and consequently they rarely had meat. Off we 
went to the town of Yaounde to pick up salt, tobacco, 
ammunition and other supplies I would need. There 
the troitble began. Some of the local boys, jealous of my 
carriers and hoping to get the jobs themselves, began 
playing on their fear of the Baboutu people and of the 
grasslands, in an attempt to scare them off. N’Denge 
came to me complaining that the carriers had lost their 
earlier enthusiasm for the trip and were now reluctant 
to go at all. 

“Massa, dem carrier say, dey no glad for go graffish 
(grasslands) country. Dey say Baboutu people no good.” 

“How you talk this foolish palaver?” I asked. 

“Massa, we hear bad talk ’bout dem people. All 
man 'gree dey get witch an’ plenty ju-ju live for dem 
country.” 

I told him not to talk nonsense, reminded him of the 
meat they would get — ^some to eat and a lot left over to 
sell very profitably — and asked him whether men of their 
calibre were to be frightened out of their wits by the idle 
chatter of foolish townsfolk. This did the trick. When we 
started out a few days later my boys, though grown pretty 
timid, were all with me. 


13* 



After three days’ march we got to the village of Nartin- 
dati, which lies on the main road between Yaounde and 
N’anga Eboko, some two miles from the banks of the 
Sanaga. The dry season was well advanced, and when we 
reached the river we found that the water was very low 
so that we rvere able to cross easily, taking advantage of 
projecting rocks and small sandy islands. From these, 
great crocodiles slithered noiselessly off into the water, 
disturbed by our approach. The carriers w'ere dismayed 
to see them, for they were considerably larger than the 
crocodiles they were accustomed to in the smaller rivers 
of the forest. 

On the northern bank of the river was a wide belt of 
elephant grass, which we would either have to skirt or 
pass through before reaching the open grasslands. I had 
no idea how far along the river it extended, and so 
decided to push straight through it. The going was as 
tough as it could be. There was a narrow track, winding 
tortuously through, but it was only wide enough for a 
single file, and here and there great clumps of the grass, 
grown brittle and top-heavy through lack of rain, had 
fallen across, blocking our way and costing much in 
temper and energy to break through. It was so bad that 
after a while I decided to turn back to the river and find 
a way around the grass. 

For the most part the river banks were free of scrub 
and grass, easy going for my carriers. To them, however, 
it was soon a case of out of the frying-pan and into the 
fire. From round the bend of the river came a roaring 
and bellowing as though all hell had been let loose. The 
noise stopped suddenly just before we reached the scene, 
but a small sandy beach on the opposite bank was much 
trampled and soaked with blood, while the water near 

133 



the shore boiled and seethed as though Satan himself 
was about to emerge. I guessed at once that under the 
water a hippo fight was going on. Hippopotami are 
normally placidj peaceful vegetarians, but terrible fights 
sometimes take place between bulls for the possession of 
females or for the leadership of the school, fights that 
often go on for hours before the contest is decided. 

Suddenly, and with another outburst of noise, the 
hippos made a dramatic appearance. They reared them- 
selves out of the water, their great jaws locked together, 
the tusks embedded deep in each other’s hide. Head and 
shoulders of both animals were scarred with long deep 
gashes, streaming with blood. Locked together in this 
way they wrestled in the shallows, shaking their heads 
like dogs in their efforts to throw each other over. At 
intervals they broke away, backed a little and stood pant- 
ing and gasping, their eyes red with anger and hatred. 
Then, as though at a signal, they charged again, with 
roars that shook the air and sent my boys, who had 
seen nothing like this before, into renewed shivers of 
terror. 

After a time it became clear that one of the animals 
was tiring. During the wrestling bouts he seemed more 
and more concerned with preventing himself being 
thrown than with throwing the other, and this defensive 
attitude became more marked every minute. Then at 
last he turned and ran. The other was after him like a 
flash, and we saw how fast and agile these bulky, clumsy- 
looking beasts can really be. The loser found himself 
cornered against the steep bank on one side of the little 
beach, knew that he had lost, and with a despairing effort 
flung himself past the other and plunged into the river. 
The victor came to the water’s edge and began to drink, 

134 



slowly and painfully, but with the knowledge of victory 
to support him. 

I had settled myself on a boulder near the water’s 
edge, captivated by this leviathan struggle. My boys 
squatted some way off, hoping, I suppose, that I would 
soon have done with this dangerous business and take 
them off to safety. Hidden entirely from view was 
Atanaga, my good and faithful cook. Faithful? Well, 
yes, except when there was any danger about. While on 
the march he always stuck as close to me as he could, and 
in an emergency he could find the deepest hole, the 
biggest boulder or the highest tree quicker than any man 
I knew. But the instant danger was passed he would be 
in the forefront again, cursing the boys for their 
cowardice and explaining loudly how his own fortitude 
and presence of mind had averted disaster. The man had 
a genius for improvising pure fiction on the spur of 
the moment. He also had a genius for cooking and could 
be trusted to carry a loaded shotgun behind me without 
blowing off the back of my head. 

I was about to get up, thinking that the hippo incident 
was over, when suddenly N’Denge yelled — “Look out, 
Massal ” — and from the water almost at my feet, with 
bloody foam and water running from its gaping jaws, 
rose the vanquished hippo, which had swum across deep 
below the surface to our side of the river in search of 
peace and safety. I reached for my gun, but almost before 
I touched it I saw that there was no danger. The poor 
beast, dazed and weak with the loss of blood, staggered 
past within a yard of me, oblivious of my presence. A 
weak and wounded hippo will keep away from water, 
for in that condition he may be attacked by crocodiles, 
though the two creatures normally share the same pools 

135 



in reasonable harmony. The animal certainly meant no 
harm, and was concerned only with its search for a place 
to recover or to die, depending on the severity of its 
wounds, but my boys, seeing this drooling, gory monster 
stagger torvards them with jaws agape, expected to be 
swallowed whole and ran for their lives, scattering their 
loads as they ran. The hippo crashed off through the 
grass, taking no notice of them whatsoever, and after a 
few moments’ silence Atanaga popped up from behind a 
sturdy shrub and began to yell at the departed carriers. 

“Come here, you bush niggers,” he screeched. “How 
you go leave Massa? I go tell Massa for cut all you’ 
money.” 

We gathered the boys and the scattered equipment 
together again and I tried to explain that the hippo had 
had no intention of attacking them. 

“I no savvy how you people fear dis kin’ beef. Dem 
time we live in bush you no do fear.” 

N’Dengc spat sorrowfully through the gap in his front 
teeth. “Dis no be we country, sah. We no savvy dis kin’ 
beef.” 

I knew they were thinking of the ju-jus already, and 
probably had been since we saw the big crocodiles. “I 
t’ink you an’ all dem carrier hear some kin’ foolish talk 
in town,” I said, thinking it as well to remind them of it 
and clear the air. But now they were quite convinced that 
the chatterboxes of Yaounde were right. 

“No be so, Massa,” said N’Denge, “all man savvy dis 
Babontu people no good, all get plenty ju-ju palaver.” 

“You fool too much, N’Denge,” I told him. “Dem 
hippo no go do you nothing, he glad too much for save 
him skin.” 

Nothing I could say would convince them. We had 

136 



not gone far, yet we had ah'eady encountered crocodiles 
that were abnormally large and hippos that were clearly 
hostile. What doubt could there be that the Baboutu 
people and their ju-jus were responsible for all this? 
And what further horrors lay await for us? The boys con- 
sulted together for a few minutes in low voices and then 
N’Denge stepped forward again. 

“All man say, dey no ’gree for walker for water, better 
go back for grass," he announced. 

The prospect of pushing through that elephant grass 
again did not appeal to me, but I thought it wiser to 
concede the point just then, 

“Other time I go shoot beef,” I told them bitterly over 
my shoulder as I led the way back into the grass, “I go 
take woman for carry my cargo. You no ’member tell 
me go shoot all dem beef? It no be you people who cry 
‘Massa, we be hungry, please go kill us beef'? Now you 
all do fear. You only savvy bush, where you fit run for 
stick (trees) all same monkey 1” 

We pressed on again with the sun scorching our backs. 
Occasionally a kob, alarmed by our progress, went crash- 
ing away to the right or left and then these disturbances 
too ceased altogether, and there was silence save for the 
incessant chirping of cicadas. Far too much silence I 
thought, after a while, for the boys had stopped their 
usual chatter and I noticed that they were travelling 
much faster than before and were bunched closely 
together. I called to N’Denge. 

“Hey, N’Denge, what for all man walk quick quick, 
an’ all for one place, all same goats?" 

He looked up, but dropped his eyes again hurriedly 
and muttered that there was nothing the matter, 
nothing at all. I began to get cross with them. 

OCP/991— E* 137 



“Huh, I done tell you jes’ now that women plenty 
better pass you. Now I savvy pickin better pass youl ” 

But no jibes of mine could stir their courage, and I 
was certain that something very strange was troubling 
them, for I had never seen them like this before. I called 
a halt when we reached a small stream, for carriers 
usually welcome a wash and a drink while on the march. 
I gave them permission to do these things, but they just 
dropped their loads and huddled on the ground beside 
them. There was none of their usual go.ssip; no one 
started to smoke. In an attempt to cheer them up I took 
out one of the heads of American tobacco I always carried 
for use as gifts or currency in the bush and tossed it over 
to them. They let it fall to the ground and made no 
attempt to pick it up. I talked to them for some Lime, 
asking what the trouble was, but neither N’Denge nor 
Atanaga would answer or meet my eyes. They just sat 
about miserably, twiddling their toes in the dust. I grew 
more and more angry and finally seized N'Denge by the 
shoulders and shook him. Only then did he mutter, 
“Massa, somet’ing follow we.” 

I told him again, in short simple terms, what I thought 
of him and his ju-jus, but he insisted that for the last 
half an hour something had been following us through 
the grass and that it was, in all probability, a ju-ju of 
the Baboutu people, who, as everyone knew, could turn 
themselves into animals at will. 

“I tell you for true, Massa. Soraet’ing live for follow 
we. Dem Baboutu people no good, sometime dey no 
want we for come shoot beef in dey country. You no 
savvy dem people fit for turn beef? Dey plopper ju-ju 
people, sah.” 

I got them on their feet again and hurried them off, 

138 



saying that if there was something following us, the 
wisest plan would be to get on as fast as we could. Hardly 
had we started, however, than N’Denge came to me and 
whispered, “Massa, you no hear somet’ing now?” 

Though I listened intently, no sound reached my ears 
save the rasping cicadas and the slight wind rustling the 
tall dry grass. Nevertheless I began to get uneasy myself, 
for N’Denge’s ears were twice as sharp as mine, and I 
could not believe his imagination would play tricks on 
him to that extent. 

Wearily we walked on, for perhaps another mile, with 
no sign that we were nearing the end of the elephant 
grass. Then quite suddenly I caught a sound from 
behind us. N’Denge spotted the look on my face, knew 
what it meant and nodded gravely, without saying a 
word. Not far behind us came the sound of footsteps of 
some creature moving steadily through the grass. What 
alarmed me was that in all the years I had hunted in 
Africa I had never heard anything like it before. I ran 
through the names of every large animal I knew to exist 
in the Cameroons, but this was not the sound any of them 
would have made. There was something decidedly un- 
pleasant about those slow, muffled footsteps, and, as 
N’Denge had said, they were indeed horribly ghost- 
like. 

A little shiver ran down my spine. The boys were 
terror stricken and crowded round me, shouting that it 
was “Some kin’ ju-ju t’ing”, and almost knocking the 
loads from each other’s heads in their fright. Atanaga 
dropped his hat, which he had bought only a few days 
before, and did not even trouble to pick it up. I took the 
shotgun he carried and unloaded it. This was an affront 
to him of course, bpt in bis present state of agitation he 

139 



was no longer safe xvith a loaded gun. There was nothing 
much else I could do immediately except to go on, and 
after checking that my rifle was in order, I led the way 
forward again. 

The noise became clearer as we pushed along the 
winding trail. I could see now why the boys had become 
so frightened, for what made it really uncanny was that 
sometimes it seemed to come from behind us, sometimes 
from in front and sometimes from either side. This, 
N’Denge told me, had been going on from the start. It 
was not until afterwards that I understood how this had 
come about, and cursed myself for my stupidity. 

Not far ahead of us, and to the right, where the foot- 
steps could now be heard, I noticed a small hillock 
standing out above the grass. Our gho.st, or whatever it 
was, appeared to be moving towards this, and I decided 
that the open sides of the little hill would make a suitable 
arena in which to face whatever danger there might be. 
Leaving the boys where they were, I took N’Denge, who 
carried my spare rifle, and hurried off as fast as I could, 
circling through the gra,ss towards the hill in an attempt 
to head the thing off. When we arrived, N’Denge climbed 
a small tree, while I faced the direction of the sound and 
loosed the safety catch of my rifle. 

The footsteps were certainly getting nearer, though 
their progress seemed agonisingly slow. I stood below 
N’Denge, while his trembling foot rested on my shoulder 
to nudge me if he should see anything. I gripped my rifle 
more fiercely than there was any need and the sweat 
trickled down into the corners of my mouth. N’Denge 
prodded me with his toe, and when I glanced up he 
touched his eye and pointed towards the grass, 

“You look somet’ing, N’Denge?’’ I whispered. 

140 



“No, Massa, no look plopper. Grass he move. He be 
ju-ju for true.” 

Still those dreadful footsteps drew nearer, slowly and 
ponderously through the whispering grass. And then, 
when I had begun to think I could stand it no longer, the 
tall stems before me parted, and I stood face to face with 
the ghost of the Sanaga grasslands. For a moment or two 
I stared at it in horror, and then, raising my rifle, I 
brought it crashing to the ground with a single shot. 

The ghost that had haunted us for the best part of that 
afternoon was an elephant, but such an elephant as I had 
never seen before and never want to see again. The 
bulging, elephantine belly had become an empty, 
withered, wrinkled bag, hanging like a dewlap from the 
spine. Every bone of the massive frame stood out clearly 
under the hide, the ribs like deep, rolling corrugations 
along the sides. The head drooped and the trunk dragged 
uselessly on the ground between the forefeet. The neck, 
shoulders and flanks were a suppurating mass of stinking 
sores, covered with black sheets of flies and alive with 
filthy, wriggling maggots, eating into what little was left 
of the living flesh. One of the tusks had fallen from its 
rotten socket and where the eyes had been was only pus. 

This poor, suffering creature, I realised now, had been 
slowly wandering through the grass, waiting for death to 
end its misery. It had been pushing along in a straight 
line, oblivious to everything around it and must have 
crossed and re-crossed our track a score of times, which 
was why the sound had kept changing in direction so 
mysteriously. I tied a handkerchief over my mouth and 
nostrils and went forward to examine the carcase. With 
the point of a long knife I prised from the sores on the 
neck and behind the ears bits of lead and iron pots, such 



as natives use. The animal had been shot — about two 
weeks earlier I judged — at close range with a muzzle- 
loading gun, charged with these scraps of metal, a 
common practice among the tribes. The wounds were 
superficial, but they had become infected and the flies 
had done the rest. 

Atanaga now came running up at the head of the boys, 
waving the shotgun joyfully. He took a good look at the 
dead elephant. 

“I no been tell you he be only beef ?”.he asked them all 
triumphantly. "I no savvy how you been fear so plenty. 
You wait, all you’ women in Yaounde go laugh you 
plenty dem time I tell ’em.” 

The solitary tusk of the elephant stuck up grotesquely 
from the fallen body— fifty pounds of valuable ivory. I 
saw no reason why this should be left for the Baboutu 
people who must have been responsible for shooting the 
poor beast and causing it so much suffering, so we carried 
it off. An hour later we stood in the open savannah, with 
the elephant grass behind us. 


142 



CHAPTER VII 


THE WOMAN CHIEFTAIN OF CHEKE 

None of my men had visited savannah land before, and 
its effect upon them was remarkable. Never had they 
been able to see so far, and they kept pointing and 
straining their eyes in their efforts to distinguish objects 
many miles away. They were pleased and excited, like 
children on their first visit to the sea-side, and their good 
humour was an agreeable contrast to the gloom that had 
hung over us since we left Yaounde. The ju-ju of the 
grasslands had been quite forgotten. We found a small 
but beautifully clean stream, where I decided to camp. 
My tent was erected in a twinkling and for themselves 
the men built tiny shelters of grass and saplings. While 
Atanaga cooked ray dinner — it was corned beef stew — 
the carriers bathed in the stream, playing and splashing 
each other with the abandon of schoolboys. Then they 
cooked their own meal of rice and stockfish, which is 
dried, imported cod, a nourishing, popular and most 
convenient food for carriers. 

After four days of hard marching I thought a day or 
two at rest would do us no harm, and the camp did not 
stir next morning until gone eight, when the sun had 
already half-completed its welcome task of banishing the 
cold and mists. By ten, it was hotter than we ever knew 
it in the shady forest. Taking N’Denge and one of the 
carriers, a man called Esoraba, I went for a scout round. 
N’Denge found a good deal to puzzle him: there were 

143 



the tracks of lions, an animal he had never seen, and of 
herds of kob and buffalo. Over the latter he spent many 
minutes, shaking his head and muttering with astonish- 
ment. In the forest, antelopes and buffaloes seldom occur 
in groups of more than two or three, and to N’Denge it 
was iittlc short of miraculous to find herds consisting of 
twenty or thirty. His only worry was that we should get 
lost, for he missed the narrow game-trails of the forest 
and could not understand how anyone could find a way 
through this vast, featureless plain. He recommended 
that we should employ a local guide, and I agreed with 
him, though in view of the men’s attitude to the Baboutu 
people I doubted that they would get on together. 

The problem had already been solved when we 
returned to camp, having bagged half a dozen plump 
young partridges on the way. My carriers were gathered 
round two Baboutu spearmen, talking to them happily 
and plying them with food. Atanaga said that the men 
came from a village a few miles away and wanted us to go 
and stay there with them while we hunted. I could not 
speak Baboutu, but one of the carriers knew a little and 
when I asked how far away their village was, he 
answered ; 

“Dis people say, no plenty far. Three waters”; which 
meant that three streams or rivers had to be crossed 
before reaching the village. And lest the reader faugh at 
such a primitive way of reckoning distance, let him 
consider how much more valuable it is than mere mile- 
age in a land where a ten-mile journey might take hours, 
days or weeks, according to the nature of the terrain. 

The relationship between my carriers and the 
Baboutu could not have been better; in some queer way 
the ju-ju incident had quite purged them of their fears 

144 



and prejudices. I told the strangers, through the inter- 
preter, that we would come to their village next day and 
I was assured that their chieftain would welcome me. 
For chieftain they used the words Kukuma Mininga, 
which surprised and intrigued me, for Kukuma means 
“chief” and Mininga means “a woman”, a curious 
phenomenon where women are kept in gross subjection. 
I had heard of Kukuma Miningas, but they were very 
rare and I had not met one before. 

Finding and crossing the “three waters” took about 
four hours, but presented no great difficulty. The village 
was small — about twenty huts placed neatly and sym- 
metrically in two lines — but it was very clean and well 
kept, a tribute to the stern but warm-hearted Kukuma 
who now came fortrard to greet me. 

She was an elderly lady wearing a bright “mother 
hubbard” and a green silk head-scarf. To my surprise, 
she welcomed me in excellent German and invited me 
inside. Native huts are often dirty and seldom contain 
any sort of furniture. Hers was spotlessly clean, with a 
mat of Hausa origin on the hard mud floor, a table spread 
with a large, coloured cloth, and two comfortable arm- 
chairs. On the walls were pages cut from European 
magazines and faded photographs of native German 
troops and of German officers in uniform. A simple hole 
in the wall acted as a window, and there were doors 
leading to two smaller rooms at the back. The Kukuma 
made me a cup of coffee, chattering away cheerfully all 
the time, and presently I heard her story. 

“In the days when my breasts were no bigger than 
hens’ eggs,” she told me in German, “my father, who was 
the chief of this village, took me to Yaounde with him to 
carry his food. In Yaounde we met another Baboutu man 

145 



who was the servant of a German officer. The German 
was looking for a native mistress — “some fine small girl” 
— and was prepared to pay a good price for one who was 
really comely. My father decided that I should be offered 
to him at once, and I was taken along to be looked at. 
The German liked me and saw that I was nice and clean, 
so he gave my father money, salt and tobacco, and made 
me his mistress. He named me Anna, and that is what I 
am still called. He was very kind to me and I stayed with 
him for several years and bore him two children. I was 
sorry when the war came and he had to run away. My 
father put the children in a mission school and I don’t 
know where they are now. When my father died I came 
back here and made the people keep the village clean and 
tidy. Thus I became the Kukuma and now I look after 
the seventy people who live in this village. They are 
happy and we always pay our taxes regularly." 

I liked Anna. She ran her village efficiently but kindly, 
and there was nothing ingratiating in her hospitality to 
me. She told me that the surrounding country was rich 
in game and seldom hunted, so it appeared that I need 
go no further for the animals I needed. In the morning 
I went off with N’Denge and stalked a herd of kob, a 
dark, rufous-coloured antelope, about three feet high, 
with gracefully curved horns, “Stalking” was hardly the 
•word, for these animals showed little fear, and when I 
brought down a buck, the others ran off only a few yards 
and then stopped and stared first at me and then at the 
fallen buck in blank astonishment, not understanding 
what had happened. One writer on the West African 
forests has said that “the semi-darkness of the dense forest 
defeats the white man’s skill, and only natives can hunt 
in it”. I had done no savannah hunting for years, and 

146 



the contrast between this and the forest was so striking 
that at first I felt bewildered. At the same time I had to 
make the most of this good fortune, and before the day 
ended I had added bush-buck, wart-hog and reed-buck 
to my list. 

Soon after I fell asleep that night I was awakened by 
the shouting of men and the terrified bleating of goats. 
N’Denge came in to tell me that a tiger (he meant a 
leopard) had broken into the goat enclosure and seized a 
kid, but the goats had raised such a hullabaloo and the 
villagers were so promptly on the scene that it had 
dropped its prey and made off. The little goat was terribly 
mauled but still alive, so I shot it at once. The leopard 
spoor I examined next morning showed that the animal 
was a big male. I wanted leopards, and since this one had 
been troubling the villagers for some time the oppor- 
tunity was ideal, and I decided to sit up for it. 

Building a suitable platform was difficult. The only 
trees on the savannah were short and stunted, giving the 
land the alternative name of “orchard” country. On the 
other side of the village, however, was a wild date palm, 
the tallest tree I could find, so I had it chopped down 
and used the stem as the main support for my platform. 
Branches from smaller trees, piled with leaves and finally 
covered with my tent canvas, completed this rickety 
structure, which stood only six feet high, a very modest 
jump for a leopard. For bait I chose a dog, since, as 
N’Denge said, “tigers like dog too much.” A very morose- 
looking young pup was purchased from Anna for this 
purpose, tethered below my platform and provided with 
food and water for the night. No sooner had darkness 
fallen than the wretched creature set up a most dismal 
wailing, which was maintained, without interruption 

147 



from the leopard or any other beast, until next morning. 
I was frozen stiff during the long, sleepless watch, and 
the dog’s howling gave me a splitting headache which 
lasted for hours. 

Anna suggested that in view of the leopard’s taste for 
goats, a kid might be more suitable than a dog, and when 
I took up my watch on the platform the following 
evening, a half-grown kid had taken the place of the 
puppy below me. From the start, the kid behaved in a 
most curious fashion, shaking its head repeatedly as 
though trying to rid itself of some irritation, and bleating 
piteously all the time. I could not remember a more 
vocal goat, but this was exactly the kind of advertisement 
I needed to attract the leopard, and I thought no more 
about it until next day. 

Nothing happened until nearly one o’clock, when my 
legs were beginning to lose all sense of feeling. Suddenly 
the kid stopped bleating and turned about, facing up- 
wind. With my finger on the button of a powerful torch 
which I had strapped to the barrel of my rifle, I turned 
my head slightly and looked in the same direction. At 
first I could see nothing but blurred shadows and patches 
of moonlight, but then my attention was held by 
one particular shadow. Superficially it looked like all 
the others — just a vague, ill-defined patch of darkness — 
yet there was something about it that struck me as 
suspicious. It moved; but there was nothing alarming in 
that, for all the shapes and shadows of the night appear to 
be in a constant and sinister state of flux. Then the kid 
jerked backwards, straining at its tether, and began 
bleating again, much louder than before. Now the 
shadow seemed to have gone; but another had appeared 
ten yards nearer the kid, and on this I shone my torch. 

148 



It was the leopard all right, and as the beam struck his 
lovely rosetted coat, he spun round, staring straight at 
the light. His eyes were glowing with a fire of their own, 
and his fore-legs were splayed out ready for a spring, but 
before he could make another move a heavy soft-nosed 
bullet struck him deep in the throat, and he rolled over 
and lay still. 

N’Denge, followed by a crowd of villagers, amved 
within a few seconds and helped me down. From a 
distance of perhaps twenty yards we began throwing 
pebbles at the leopard. Several of them struck him and 
he did not move, but I approached cautiously, holding 
my rifle ready in case the heast was not dead. The leopard 
gave no sign of life until I prodded him in the tummy 
with the tip of the barrel. Then he lashed out with his 
right paw, narrowly missing my leg as I jumped back, 
firing at the same time. The .second bullet took him full 
in the chest and killed him at once. 

I suppose more hunters have been killed by animals 
they wrongly presumed were dead than by any other 
means. I remember a French postmaster who lived at 
Garoua and once went shooting rhino. He brought down 
a fine bull rhino, sat beside the carcase quenching his 
thirst from a bottle of vin rouge, and then climbed on top 
of it, rifle in hand, to have his photograph taken. An 
instant after the camera clicked, old man rhino suddenly 
got to his feet, throwing the postmaster in a graceless 
heap on the ground, and ambled away without so much 
as a glance at his would-be executioner. Later in the day 
the rhino was shot again, properly this time, by another 
hunter, and an examination showed that it had been 
only sturmed by the postmaster’s bullet, which had 
clipped a chunk of bone from its thick skull. 

149 



A similar incident — though on a smaller scale — hap- 
pened to me while hunting hyraxes, those funny little 
animals, about the size of rabbits, which are the “coneys” 
of the Bible. Hyraxes are of great zoological interest, for 
although they are so small they are the nearest relatives 
of the elephant. I shot one of them and put it in my 
haversack, along with a few partridges. A little later I 
felt something wriggling inside the bag and I foolishly 
put in my hand to see what it was. The hyrax, which 
presumably had been only stunned, gave me a severe 
bite on the finger, and when I dropped the bag in pain 
it popped out and disappeared among the grass. 

It occurred to me, as I walked back to bed, that the 
long-suffering goat whose services had led to the death of 
the leopard was still bleating for all it was worth, and I 
remarked on this to N’Denge. 

“What for dis goat shake him head and cry cry all 
time?" 

N’Denge giggled. “Massa, dem man put small stone 
for inside ear for make him holler all night,” he told me. 

I discovered that this was an old dodge of village 
hunters. A tiny pebble, pushed far into a goat’s ear, 
causes sufficient irritation to make it bleat continuously, 
without causing it actual harm. I went back and got 
N’Denge to hold the kid down while I tried to get the 
stone out again, but it had gone in too far, and there was 
nothing I could do but have the animal slaughtered to 
save it from further suffering. 

In the morning we skinned the leopard, which was a 
fine male about four years old and in prime condition. 
I gave N’Denge strict instructions to guard the skin 
while it was drying, and when this long process had been 
completed I put it in a padlocked box to preserve its 

150 



whiskers from the villagers, who were already eyeing 
them nervously. 

I wonder how many leopard skins in museums and 
private collections have false whiskers? Like giraffe tails, 
which are used as fly-whisks, and rhino horn, which 
fetches a fantastic price from senile orientals with young 
wives, leopard whiskers are highly prized by Africans. 
No leopard skin sold by a native has its whiskers intact, 
and if you keep a leopard skin in a house where there are 
native servants the whiskers will mysteriously disappear. 
This is because the long stiff hairs of the leopard’s 
moustache are believed to be a potent poison. It is said 
that they are unnoticeable when chopped up and mixed 
with food, and that by piercing the intestines they cause 
agonising death. Few Africans are potential murderers, 
but they all think of themselves as potential victims, and 
consequently they cut off and burn any leopard whiskers 
they find, lest they be used against them by an enemy. I 
have seen houseboys shake with terror at the sight of a 
leopard skin with the whiskers intact. Leopard claws 
are also valuable, but they are used as charms and not for 
evil purposes. 

There are many other ways of poisoning. Some of 
them involve magic — to the African there is no clear 
division between the natural and the supernatural — and 
others are more practical and very cunning. Powdered 
glass — called “Tear tear belly” in pidgin — is popularly 
regarded as an efficient poison. Another method is to 
plant a tiny, poisoned thorn in the hard earth outside 
the dooi'Way of a victim’s hut. There is always a foot-high 
strip of wood or bark across the lower part of the door- 
way, so that its occupant treads more heavily than usual 
when he comes out. This forces the thorn into the foot. 



but the skin is too thick and insensitive for it to be 
noticed. Gradually it works its way in, carrying the 
poison with it. I believe that this system is often used 
and sometimes works, though it is obviously indis- 
criminate and liable to kill the wrong person. 

Murder is not always done out of personal animosity; 
it may involve one or other of the numerous secret 
societies that exist everywhere in West Africa. Some of 
these societies are harmless or even beneficial, with 
widely varying functions and many degrees of secrecy. 
They may be concerned only with initiation into man- 
hood or womanhood, involving the circumcision of boys 
and excision of the clitoris in women, though as far as 
I know the latter is not practised in the French 
Cameroons. The vast majority are mutual benefit clubs 
of a useful character, but there are a few whose functions 
seem to be wholly malignant. Of these, the most trouble- 
some, notorious and puzzling is the Leopard Society, 
which has caused great anxiety to more than one 
Government in West Africa at various times. 

When I first came to the Cameroons I worked on a 
plantation called Bai Farm, in what is now the British 
Cameroons. Our native labourers were terrified to go out 
after dark because the leopard men were about. One of 
my duties was to visit the cocoa-drying fires at intervals 
during the night, to ensure that they were burning well. 
I used to take a boy with me on this patrol, but had to 
leave him behind eventually because he became liter- 
ally sick and later very ill with fear of the leopard 
men. 

I talked this over with a German colleague and we 
determined to get to the bottom of the business. Armed 
with shotguns we laid in wait night after night, while the 

16 ? 



fear of the labourers neared the point of panic and our 
own tempers began to fray. So that when we saxv what 
looked like a leopard moving among the trees we both 
fired at it, and were rewarded with a terrible but very 
human scream. We shone a lamp into the leopard man’s 
face just as he died, and found that he was one of our own 
labourers. Tied about his head and shoulders was a 
leopard skin; on each finger he wore a long curved claw, 
made of iron sharpened to a fine point and attached to 
his fingers by tight iron rings. His chest and abdomen 
had been painted with white spots to complete the 
illusion. 

A few years later leopard men caused panic among the 
native people of Kribi, on the coast. A woman was pulled 
from her hut one night, mauled to death and her heart 
cut out and carried off. Two days later another woman 
died in the same way, and again her heart was missing. 
The Government set up a patrol, but a few nights later a 
third woman fell victim to the leopard men and once 
more the heart was cut out. In each case the claw marks 
looked as though they had been inflicted by a leopard, 
but no leopard would have made off with only the heart. 
The murders took place around Christmas time and they 
stopped as suddenly as they had begun. No explanation 
was ever forthcoming; no culprit ever brought to book. 
I have known a great many Leopard Society murders; 
they all took place around Christmas time, the victims 
were always women, and their hearts were always ex- 
cised. I suppose the hearts are used for some ritual which 
takes place only at that time of the year. Perhaps this 
has some faint link with the druidical rites that took 
place at Stonehenge and other temples at the winter 
solstice. Whatever the truth, no one has lifted so much as 


153 



a corner of the veil that shrouds this dreadful organisa- 
tion in secrecy. 

There were two occasions when I thought I was going 
to learn something about the Leopard Society. When I 
was hunting elephant in the Akoafim mountain region 
I saw a most curious dance performed by a man wearing 
a leopard skin. I think he might have belonged to the 
Society, for the villagers regarded him with great fear 
and awe. I arrived, unheralded, after the dance had 
started and left before it ended, and I do not think he 
knew I was there. His dance was quite unlike anything I 
have ever seen. He writhed and jerked his body in a 
fantastic way that is impossible to describe, and he 
stamped his feet and made great leaps into the air. 
Several young girls stood watching, and he seized them 
each in turn, embracing them closely and continuing 
his dance with the girl lying limp and apparently help- 
less in his arms. Then he threw them down, and for a 
long time they lay still, as though in a trance. The vil- 
lagers told me that the dancer was a hermit who lived 
in a cave far up the mountain, but when I returned to 
the village next day and asked more questions they 
shook their heads and denied any further knowledge of 
him or his activities. I spent a long time trying to dis- 
cover the significance of the dance, but with no success, 

The second occasion was equally frustrating. I was 
staying with Adjutant Marcelin, the District Officer of 
Akoafim, where there had recently been several Leopard 
Society murders. The Adjutant’s Senegalese policemen 
caught a man in possession of a leopard skin, which he 
could not account for, and though this was pretty slender 
evidence he was brought to trial in the hope that some- 
thing concrete would emerge. Marcelin knew of my 

154 



interest in the Society and thought I might be able to 
help, so he asked me to attend the trial. The prisoner, 
however, refused to say a word, and none of the wit- 
nesses, including the woman who was supposed to be his 
mother, would admit ever having seen him before. 
Marcelin and I tried every trick we knew to overcome 
their fear and stubbornness, but for once neither of us 
could get the natives to talk. The man was acquitted 
through lack of evidence, but the silence of the witnesses 
confirmed our belief that he belonged to the Society. 

I took a great deal of care preserving my leopard skin, 
for it was one of the finest I had seen. When it was 
finished a few days later I went in search of buffalo with 
N’Denge and a Baboutu who could speak pidgin. We 
walked for miles in the early morning through grass 
heavy with dew, until I was soaked to the knees. Then we 
crossed a stream, climbed a short incline on the other 
side, and came upon country that had been recently 
burned. The savannah tribes periodically set fire to the 
grass to drive game into their lines of waiting spearmen. 
The surviving game benefits from licking up the ash and 
feeding on the fresh green grass that soon comes sprout- 
ing through. While the fires are burning, scores of black 
kites sweep about through the smoke, taking a heavy toll 
of smaller animals, such as rodents and lizards. On the 
far side of the burned country was a shallow valley, and 
in it a swamp surrounded by elephant grass, in which 
our guide believed we would find buffalo. We walked 
across the charred ground towards the valley, and after a 
few yards my soaking boots and trousers were black with 
the ash. 

There were no buffalo to be seen, but by separating 
and casting around we came upon the tracks of a herd 

155 



numbering about a dozen. I climbed a small tree and 
studied the vegetation of the swamp through my binocu- 
lars, trying to locate the animals, but soon my attention 
was arrested by a curious movement in the short 
savannah grass at a spot about thirty yards from the tree. 
With the glasses I could see individual blades of grass 
toppling and then falling from sight. I called to the 
Baboutu man in a whisper and asked him what he 
thought it might be. 

“Dat be cut-grass, Massa,” he replied. 

“What kin’ t’ing be cut-grass?’’ 

“Him be small beef what chop grass.’’ 

And since that wms all the information I could get 
from him I decided to find out for myself. I took my 
’23 rifle from N’Denge and told him to drive the hidden 
animals towards me when I had taken up a position on 
the far side of a patch of bare ground that stood down- 
wind of them. I got there with as little noise as possible, 
and at my signal N’Denge came walking through the 
grass towards me, shooing the still invisible animals in 
my direction. Two of them broke cover barely twenty 
yards from me. They were large rat-like animals, which 
I had never seen before, but which I identified as giant 
cane-rats. They moved so fast and were out of sight again 
so quickly that I could not get a shot, but later I trapped 
several of them alive and sold them to a collector. 

Giant cane-rats are not rats at all, and the pidgin name 
“cut-grass” suits them better, for they live on grass and 
roots. They are, in fact, relatives of the porcupines and 
are covered with spiny, dark brown bristles. From the 
nose to the tip of the tail they measure about twenty- 
seven inches, of which a third is tail. The natives have a 
taste for their flesh and frequently hunt them. 

156 



It was just as well that I had not fired, for a fetv 
minutes later the buffaloes came drifting out of the 
elephant grass like great black shadows. These were the 
comparatively small West African buffalo, not the big 
Northern variety, but leading them was a truly magni- 
ficent, jet black bull. The cows Tvere much lighter in 
colour and there were three calves of a distinctly reddish 
hue. They came out of the grass ahead of us, but there 
was no cover in between and a direct approach was 
impossible, so I made my way round to the right, 
following a slight ridge, and appeared again on their 
flank. 

They must have got wind of me as I was moving, for 
when I looked again they had turned and were still 
facing me, the bull tossing his head and trying the air 
suspiciously. Between me and the herd there was a thin 
belt of trees and I was well out of sight. Taking advan- 
tage of every scrap of cover, I worked my way to the far 
edge of the trees. Beyond them was an enormous ant- 
hill, and I slithered along flat on the ground until I 
reached it. Then I stood up and cautiously peered round, 
but the herd had vanished. N’Denge and the Baboutu 
came up and said that the animals had gone back into 
the elephant grass while I was moving from the trees to 
the ant-hill. It was terribly hot and I envied the buffaloes 
the shade they were finding in the elephant grass. The 
Baboutu thought they would come out to graze again 
when it Was cooler, and suggested that meanwhile it 
would be a good idea to find a bit of shade ourselves, and 
have a rest. 

When the bull led his family out of the elephant grass 
later in the afternoon he was still uneasy, but the animals 
were hungry and they badly wanted to graze again. From 

157 



my position behind the ant-hill I watched while they 
waited for the bull to decide whether it was safe to go 
further, but though I was down-wind of him and he 
could not get my scent, he was still uneasy and kept 
staring in my direction. 

On the backs of the buffaloes were upwards of a dozen 
tick-birds, which perform the dual function of removing 
parasites and warning their big friends of the approach 
of enemies. If they see anything that moves, or anything 
strange, they fly up into the air uttering sciueaky warn- 
ing chirps. I kept well out of sight, without moving a 
muscle, but when I thought the bull was in a suitable 
position I began, infinitely slowly, to raise my rifle. This 
movement was instantly spotted by the tick-birds, which 
fluttered upwards squeaking like mad. The herd with- 
drew backwards, for the elephant grass was only a few 
paces behind them, but the bull, who was further out, 
swung round to enter the grass head first. As he came 
side on to me I sent a bullet straight into his heart and 
he dropped like a log. Once again I had been lucky, for 
he was a fine specimen, with horns measuring nine- 
teen inches from tip to tip, and with a breadth of 
twenty-five inches between the extremities of the 
curves. 

Water-buck were the only other animals I was anxious 
to get on the savannah, and my hunt for these a few clays 
later produced another leopard under the most surpris- 
ing circumstances. Water-buck are among the largest 
African antelopes, weighing as much as 360 pounds. 
Unlike the others, they are not found in herds, and I have 
never seen more than two together. Except during the 
rutting season these pairs are always of the same sex. As 
their name implies, water-buck are found in the vicinity 

158 



of water, and since the nearest locality was the N’yie 
river valley, which lay to the north of Anna’s village, I 
set off there as soon as I could. 

I had gone only half a mile when a bush-buck came 
bounding through the scrub straight towards me. It 
sometimes happens that frightened animals will run 
towards a man, and though various sentimental theoriCvS 
have been suggested to account for this, the truth is prob« 
ably that in its panic the animal mistakes the man for a 
tree-stump or other natural obstacle which might afford 
some shelter. In this case I was astonished not because 
the bush-buck was making for me, but because it was 
being chased by a leopard, which was bounding along at 
its heels like a wolf. I stood quite still until the animals 
were within fifty yards, and then took a heart shot at 
the cat, which cart-wheeled over and over until it came 
to a stop in a crumpled heap. The bush-buck careered 
away at the sound of the shot and that was the last I 
saw of it. 

Leopards normally hunt at night, and like other cats; 
they do so by stalking and not by running down their 
prey. Yet here was one that hunted like a dog — and at 
high noonl I never heard of them hunting in that way 
before, though I have found them at work in broad day- 
light several times. In Yaounde a leopard took a lamb 
from my stockade, right under my nose, at nine o’clock 
in the morning, and on the banks of the Kom river in the 
Akoafim district I once saw a leopard kill a blue duiker 
just about noon. Some years later, when I was with my 
wife, We surprised a leopard on its kill — civet cat — 
about ten in the morning. 

In the present case the leopard was a female, and her 
dugs were greatly distended. It was clear that she had 

159 



cubs not far off, and I was sorry to have killed her. Per- 
haps she had been hunting all night without success and 
had adopted this unorthodox method in desperation. 
Since she was dead, it was important that we should find 
the cubs as soon as possible so that they would not starve. 
I went back to the village at once, and with Anna’s 
co-operation borrowed all the men and boys to hunt for 
them. 

Anna thought it most likely that the leopard had come 
from an extensive outcrop of rocks that lay a mile or two 
from the village, and that she was probably the mate of 
the one I had shot several nights earlier. We went there, 
found likely-looking leopard spoor among the boulders 
and, when we followed them up, came across a few bones 
and the skulls of two very young antelopes, probably 
kob. It seemed that we were on their track, but from birth 
the leopard is an expert in concealing himself, and we 
spent the best part of the morning hacking down thorn 
trees, pushing aside stones and boulders, peering and 
poking into crevices and getting ourselves scratched and 
filthy before a yell went up from N’Denge. 

“Yaaahl Massa, Massa, come quick 1 Eh, Massal I 
done fin’ tiger pickin. He be, how you say, hell-uv-a-fine 
pickin! ” 

His yells of pain were accompanied by the hissing and 
spitting of the “tiger pickin’’, and when I ran up I found 
him holding at arm’s length a scrap of spotted fur that 
scratched, snarled and spat and had already torn three 
bright red furrows from his wrist to his elbow. We 
popped the little fellow into a sack and after a minute or 
two he lay still in its comfortable darkness. Then we 
found his sister “playing possum" under a thorn-bush. 
If anything, she was rather more belligerent than her 

x6o 




Typical rivei crosbing 
m the heart of the West 
African forest, wheie 
bridges of timber rot 
away within a few 
months 

{Cowtesy VQV'ell-tcHun hhmtm) 


The giant forest hog, 
a rare and dangerous 
animal of the deep 
piimeval forest 
[CouTleiy PoMtU-CoUan Mnimvi) 



Mrs. Hilda Mcrfield on the way to llie Mendjim Mey. When the 
carriers found that she lilied floweis they covered her tepoy with 
Flatne of the Forest 


brother, and she too was hurriedly provided with a sack 
and marched of! to the village. 

I think the cubs must have been without food for a 
long time. The leopard is one of nature’s most efficient 
killers, yet even nature sometimes fails. Their hunger, 
coupled with their mother’s strange behaviour, con- 
vinced me that she had not killed for two or three days. I 
gave the cubs a dish of warm milk, diluted with water, 
and almost at once they started to lap it up. Then I went 
out and shot a young bush-buck, cutting out the liver 
and presenting it to them still warm. They pounced on 
it and tore it to bits, swallowing great lumps of it as fast 
as they could. Afterwards, with bloated tummies and 
satisfied expressions, they made themselves comfortable 
on my bed and began to lick their paws. 

In a day or two they became fairly tame, and could be 
handled at the risk of a few mild scratches. I made soft, 
comfortable collars for them out of a kob’s skin, and 
though it took quite a struggle to get them on, and 
several days before they got used to them, eventually it 
was possible to take the cubs about on leads. When I got 
back to Yaounde I made a present of them to a lady who 
kept them as pets until they were nearly full-grown. By 
that time she could handle them only when wearing 
thick leather gloves and breeches, for in their rough, but 
not unfriendly play, they scratched dangerously. I saw 
them not long before they were sold to an animal dealer 
and sent to Europe, and I could not wonder at her anxiety 
to be rid of them. It was something of a shock to me, 
entering her living-room, to see two big leopards jump- 
ing about all over her furniture. 

I got two good water-buck in the N’yie river valley and 
that completed my savannah hunt. Taking my leave of 

ocp/991— r i6i 



Anna, I turned back to the elephant grass of the Sanaga 
river, using the same trail that I had come by. It was a 
curiosity of this district that there were no hyenas or 
vultures, and therefore the carcase of the elephant still 
lay where I had shot it, advertised from an appreciable 
distance by thick clouds of flies and a most powerful 
smell. I found that every scrap of the elephant’s huge 
toe-nails had been gnawed away by porcupines or cane- 
rats. 

The river had no terrors for my carriers this time, and 
though Atanaga and the others looked warily up and 
downstream before crossing, there was not a hippo or a 
crocodile in sight. 



CHAPTER VIH 


THE SILENT CITY OF REI BOUBA 

Monsieur Carras, the District Officer of Garoua, raised 
his hand for silence. 

“Listen,” he said. 

We listened. 

“Hear those hoof-beats?” 

“Well?” 

“My friends,” said Carras, “less than five minutes ago 
you told me that you are going to Rei Bouba, and the 
city is seventy-five miles from here, without radio or tele- 
graph, but I’ll wager that the Sultan will know of your 
intentions before we finish breakfast to-morrow. He has 
a most concentrated and efficient intelligence service, 
and if I know anything about it the news will be 
carried by relays of fast horsemen throughout the 
night.” 

“How will he receive us?” 

“That depends on you and on what kind of mood he 
happens to be in. He has a healthy respect for my 
Government, so a letter from me and a couple of police- 
men as your escort will help a lot. I also happen to 
know that the Sultan, or Lamido as they call him, has a 
weakness for sparkling wines, so I suggest that you send 
him a few cases of Muscatel with my letter, which can 
go off to-morrow. Mind you, he’ll do you no actual harm 
whatever mood he’s in, but unless you can get him to 
co-operate you’ll be wasting your time. If he doesn’t 

163 



approve of you, his people will follow your safari and 
scare off all the game.” 

With me at Carras’s was Major Powell-Cotton, who 
had returned for his second hunting trip in the French 
Cameroons. During his absence I had been making 
enquiries about a number of animals he wished to add to 
his collection. One of these was the Derby eland, a rare 
variety of the largest of all antelopes, and I had discovered 
that they existed on the sandy, hilly country of Rei 
Bouba, a mysterious, medieval Sultanate in the 
Northern Territories. The country was rich in many 
other kinds of animals — ^reed-buck, gazelle, oribi, giraffe, 
Northern elephant, hartebeest, lion and rhino — many 
of which we hoped to study and hunt. 

Carras did his best to help us. His message, accom- 
panied by the wine, was dispatched next morning. What 
we heard about Rei Bouba made it as interesting to us as 
the animals we hoped to find. The people of the land 
were the Fulani, who had swept down as conquerors 
from the north a century earlier, and were now settled 
pastoralists. They came to Africa — ^probably from 
Western Asia — over a thousand years ago, and though 
their skins had darkened through miscegenation, their 
features, hair and slender build bore witness to their 
non-negroid origins. Unlike the primitive tribes they 
conquered and enslaved, the Fulani were a sophisticated 
though brutal race, with a flair for feudal administra- 
tion. For a long time their Lamidos owed allegiance to 
the Emir of Yola in Nigeria, who was in turn the vassal 
of the Sultan of Sokoto. When the Germans ruled the 
Cameroons they disliked the Lamidos being subordinate 
to native princes in British territory, but they were 
unable to destroy the Fulani administration. 

164 



Four days after dispatching ' Carras’s letter and the 
wine, our safari set out from Garoua, with Powell-Cotton 
and myself travelling on horse-back. Following the River 
Rei, a tributary of the great Benue, we soon entered 
pleasant, undulating grassland, and late in the afternoon 
came upon a large Fulani village. We were surprised to 
find the headman waiting for us. He greeted us gravely 
but courteously, and told us that food for ourselves and 
for OUT carriers had already been prepared. This was a 
most agreeable start, for it meant that the Lamido had 
decided to receive us and had given instructions that 
we were to be well treated. 

Nature, however, was not so kindly disposed, and on 
our second day’s march we ran into a storm which lasted 
only half an hour but which was the most violent I can 
ever remember. First came a great wind which struck 
us with such force and so unexpectedly that we were 
almost bowled over. Our horses reared with fright at the 
impact, and refused to move on, turning their backs to 
the wind and lowering their heads. The carriers dropped 
their loads and crouched behind boxes of stores and 
bundles of bedding, where we quickly joined them. 
Then came the rain, swamping us and everything we 
had into a sodden mess. 

The storm ended as suddenly as it had begun and we 
rode on again with our clothes clinging to our skins. In 
the afternoon we came to another village, where Powell- 
Cotton and I were provided with a small hut. Our bed- 
ding was soaked and we spent a most uncomfortable 
night sleeping on the hard mud floor. The sun deserted 
us, and we stayed there for three days trying to dry our 
equipment. 

Powell-Cotton went down with dysentery after this, 
165 



perhaps because he drank too much milk, of which there 
was a plentiful supply from the cattle-owning Fulanis. 
But later the weather improved and the sun came out 
to warm us up. While my companion was recuperating, I 
took my -as rifle and went off in search of birds for the 
pot. Not far from camp was a stretch of dense scrub inter- 
spersed with a few taller trees which I thought were 
likely roosting places for guinea-fowl. I found a hole in 
the bushes, went down on hands and knees and crawled 
inside, pushing my rifle before me. I moved very slowly 
and quietly, heading for the taller trees, and I did not 
look upwards or forwards until I had gone twenty yards. 
Then I heard a low growl. I stopped and peered around. 
I could see nothing on ray left and nothing ahead, but 
when I turned to the right I found myself looking 
straight into the eyes of a full-grown lion. 

The great beast was barely ten feet away and must 
have been lying up away from the heat of the sun. I 
don’t know which of us was the most surprised. Neither 
of us could get up, for the thorns were low over our backs, 
and for a moment or two we just stared at each other. I 
believe my mouth was wide open. The lion goggled at 
me a bit, stretched his head forward, sniffed and growled 
again, rather more loudly. Then he wriggled backwards 
an inch or two. I did the same, and the next moment we 
were both scrambling backwards as fast as we could. The 
lion and I left that patch of scrub about the same time, 
but luckily by different routes, and I just had a glimpse 
of his yellow back from ov^r the bushes as he went 
bounding away across the plain. I had no further ambi- 
tions with regard to guinea-fowl; lions usually live in 
family groups, and for all I knew there might be half a 
dozen more of them in there. I returned to camp and 

166 



gasped out my story to Powell-Cotton, who was resting 
on his bed. 

“Why didn’t you shoot the beast?” he asked comfort- 
ably. 

I waved the small rifle wildly above my head. “What, 
shoot a full-grown lion with a pea-shooter like 
this?” 

“I should have thought that a hunter of your skill,” 
he answered drily, “could have shot him through the 
eye. Even a *32 bullet would have been fatal at that 
range if it were properly placed." 

And that was all the comfort I could get from this 
extraordinary man. 

Vultures were a great nuisance to our safari. They 
sat about everywhere and were very bold, often entering 
tents or huts to steal scraps of meat. I shot one of them, 
thinking it might interest Latimer Bates, my ornitholo- 
gist friend, but it was in a filthy condition, having fed on 
and soiled itself with human faeces, and it was impos- 
sible to skin it. Then I decided to trap one or two of them 
alive. There were no vultures in the Yaounde district, 
and I wondered whether it would be a good thing if I 
took a few back and liberated them there, for vultures 
are most valuable scavengers in tropical countries. The 
headman of the village heard of this plan and came to see 
me, looking very distressed. Did I not know that vultures 
were sacred, and that if I caught one of them all the wild 
beasts would come and set it free? 

I tried to reassure him, but he did not like it, and our 
carriers were really scared. However, I pointed out that 
it would be most convenient if wild animals came into 
or near our camp, for then we could shoot them without 
the trouble of hunting them. This rather took the wind 

167 



out of their sails, and they watched me in silence as I 
made and baited a trap. 

Catching the vulture was the easiest thing in the 
world. As soon as I walked away from the trap, one of the 
birds waddled forward and went straight in, snapping 
the door shut behind him by tugging at the bait. Next 
morning I hurriedly let the beastly thing go again, for 
the carriers were on the point of panic and threatened to 
desert us. All through the night there had been lions 
roaming round the camp, and about two o’clock in the 
morning I had to get up and fire half a dozen rounds to 
scare them off, for they stampeded our horses. This was 
exactly what the headman had prophesied. 

“I no bin tell you for leave dem vulture?” he asked 
in a shrill voice. “I no bin tell you all dem beef go come 
for bush for help dem?” 

And really there was not much I could say, for the 
lions had certainly not troubled us before. Several years 
later this story came back to me in an amusing way. A 
forestry officer of the French Government, who had just 
returned to Yaounde from the Rei Bouba district, was 
telling me about the superstitions of the pople there. 
He, too, had wanted to trap some vultures and had met 
with the same opposition. He was told that once another 
white man (that was me) had caught a vulture, and that 
during the night lions, leopards and all sorts of other 
animals had invaded his camp and liberated the sacred 
birdl Superstition is not always an evil thing, and here 
was a good one, for in the tropics vultures must be pre- 
served until they are replaced by modern sanitation. 

When we were two days' march from Rei Bouba we 
received further confirmation of the Lamido’s friendly 
disposition towards us. A few miles from the village of 

168 



Djurum we were met by three horsemen, who told us 
that they brought the first of six salutes from their 
master the Lamido, and that food awaited us at Djurum. 
The Lamido had also decided that we must both be tired 
after our long journey, and he suggested — it was more in 
the nature of a command — that we should now rest for 
two days. 

Having delivered this message, one of the horsemen 
galloped off. The other two escorted us to Djurum, 
where we were presented with a couple of fowls, some 
doubtful looking eggs, and a plump young goat. We 
soon had a splendid meal, and afterwards made camp 
near the river, in pleasant surroundings. While we were 
at Djurum we had no difficulty in finding food. The 
water was positively choked with fish and a random rifle 
shot could always be depended on to bring one or two 
floating to the surface. I do not know what kind they 
were, but Atanaga did wonders with them in his field 
kitchen. Honey-cakes were another agreeable change of 
diet. The Fulani people hang long baskets of plaited 
straw in the trees and collect honey of a delicious flavour 
from the wild bees that nest in them. 

We were by no means in need of a rest, but we thought 
it prudent to accept the Lamido’s suggestion that we 
should stay at Djurum for two days, and we spent the 
time exploring the River Rei. Near the river there was 
a chain of lakes, and though it was the dry season and 
they were barely six feet deep, they were full of hippo 
and crocodiles. We shot a bull hippo to provide meat for 
our carriers, and were disconcerted when the men non- 
chalantly waded out to the carcase and beat away the 
crocodiles that were already tearing at it. They said that 
crocodiles never attack men, but if that were so then 
ocp/991 — F* i6g 



they were remarkable crocodiles: in the rivers of the 
southern Cameroons dozens of natives are lost to these 
reptiles every year. 

The two horsemen followed us about wherever we 
went and paid the closest attention to everything we did. 
I found out later that they were constantly sending 
runners to the Lamido, presumably with reports on our 
behaviour. Our two days at Djurum seemed to be in- 
tended as a sort of probationary period. When it ended 
and we moved on again, the horsemen took charge of the 
safari, riding one on either side of us. We crossed a range 
of low, grassy hills and entered a great plain. Far away 
on high ground we could see the gloomy walls of the 
citadel, and galloping towards us in a cloud of dust was 
a single horseman, looking like a medieval knight about 
to enter a joust. When he was fifty yards away he sud- 
denly reined-in his horse, so that it reared up and pawed 
the air, and at the same time he flung a spear towards us. 
Not knowing what to expect, we stopped and stared at 
the thing as it whistled through the air, and our horses 
shied violently when it struck the ground almost at our 
feet. The rider dismounted, walked up to us and 
salaamed. This was the Lamido’s second salute. 

Four more of these dramatic gestures remained, and 
they followed one another in rapid succession. First 
came twenty infantrymen, carrying spears and heavy, 
rhinoceros-hide shields. They were followed by a group 
of musicians, who beat drums and blew loudly on an 
astonishing variety of wind-instruments. A third com- 
pany of infantrymen, fifty strong, made up the fifth 
salute, and the sixth was the most impressive and 
startling of all. 

Thundering towards us out of the dust came a squad- 

170 



ron of the famous Rei Bouba cavalrymen. These men 
were of Sudanese origin, vassals of their aristocratic 
Fulani masters, and their resemblance to the Crusaders 
was remarkable. Their horses were canopied with cloth 
of crude designs and brilliant colours, covering the 
animals to their ears and reaching down almost to their 
fetlocks. Some of the riders wore mail, others were 
swathed in heavy robes, with colourful, plumed head- 
gear, and they all carried spears with blades two feet 
long. We watched with growing nervousness as they 
charged straight at us, and for a moment we began to 
think that their intentions were anything but peaceful; 
but when they were almost upon us they pulled up — 
a superb demonstration of horsemanship — and then the 
whole company fell in behind our safari. 

I turned in my saddle to look back on this long, gaudy 
procession, and my eye fell on Atanaga and N’Denge. 
They were both looking bewildered and frightened, and 
to tell the truth I was not particularly happy myself. 
This extravagant escort was all very well, but the soldiers 
showed no real interest in us. Their manner was dull 
and wooden, quite without enthusiasm, as though they 
greeted us only because they had been ordered to. Our 
entry into the city did not serve to encourage me. 

Rei Bouba was probably one of the last completely 
walled cities in the world. The wall was of sun-baked 
mud, twenty feet high and twelve feet thick. There were 
massive wooden gates, thrown open for us by a crowd 
of soldiers and guards, who were armed with swmrds, 
axes, spears and knobkerries. They looked a rough and 
formidable crowd and their attitude appeared sinister 
because they were utterly silent. When we passed 
through the gates they were slammed behind us at once, 

171 



cutting us off from the rest of our safari, and at the other 
end of the wall was another gate, so that we felt as though 
we were at the bottom of a dry dock. The soldiers milled 
around, waving their swords and spears, but still they 
were silent. Powell-Cotton surveyed them pensively and 
then turned to me. 

“Bit of a queer show, this,” he remarked. 

I fumbled at my revolver — not that it would have 
helped us much with that crowd — but before I could 
decide what to do the second gates swung open and we 
were led into the city. The narrow streets through which 
we passed were utterly deserted and there were thick 
mats of plaited grass screening the houses, so that even 
from our horses we could see only the roofs. There were 
millions and millions of flies; everything was blanketed 
with them, and they rose up in clouds around our horses’ 
hooves as we moved along. We were taken to a rest- 
house, which consisted of two round huts, connected by 
a verandah. Leopard skins covered the floor, and in the 
corner of the verandah were large earthenware jugs con- 
taining water. We learned that water was a problem 
during the dry season, but when the rains started there 
was an excess of it, and the country surrounding the 
citadel became an impassable swamp. 

The soldiers led away our horses and came back with 
some sickly-looking goat stew and honey cakes. I knew 
a little of their language, but they took no notice of me 
when I tried it out on them. Atanaga, N’Denge, the two 
policemen and our carriers turned up half an hour later, 
looking flushed and uncomfortable, but they reported 
tliat they had not been molested in any way. Smaller 
huts near our own were allotted to them and a number of 
silent women served them with food. The flies were as 



bad here as in the streets. We had to devise a sort of tent 
made of mosquito netting to protect us from them wMle 
we ate our meals. 

In other parts of Africa, particularly where Europeans 
are seldom seen, the native people are intensely inter- 
ested in everything about you. Men, women and children 
crowd round peering into your tent or hut and asking 
all sorts of questions. Your carriers and servants are also 
required to reveal everything they know of your way of 
life, which they do with great gusto and, it is to be feared, 
a certain amount of dramatic embellishment. Here in 
Rei Bouba no one came to look at us, and the women who 
served our carriers with food said never a word. Rei 
Bouba was always as silent as the grave; the only sound 
we ever heard came from the muezzins calling people to 
prayer. Apart from that there was nothing; no children 
laughing and singing, no shouts and cries from the streets 
and market-places, no neighbours gossiping or quarrel- 
ling. Throughout our stay in the city we were haunted 
and depressed by this terrible and inexplicable silence. 

At the back of the rest-house was a small yard with 
a high wall, and in front there was an open space with a 
big baobab tree growing in the centre. Here the cavalry 
squadron appeared again, this time to perform an ex- 
hibition ride. If they intended to impress and entertain 
us they were eminently successful, for they rode magni- 
ficently and had an uncanny command of their horses. 
When they left, six soldiers came and sat down under 
the tree, and from then on we were never without a 
guard. 

Nothing at all happened the next day until I 
approached one of the guards and asked him when we 
were to see the Lamido. Without replying he got up and 

173 



walked off. Half an hour later he returned and spoke for 
the first time. 

“Soon. Perhaps to-morrow,” was all he said; and I 
could not get another word out of him. 

The same thing happened the following day, and 
again the day after that, and we began to get restless. On 
the fourth day I decided to see what would happen if I 
just walked out. Two of the guards sprang to their feet 
when they understood my intention, but they made no 
attempt to stop me. Instead they ran ahead, waving their 
heavy cavalry swords and shouting, “Out of the way! 
Out of the wayl Behold the white man approaches! Out 
of the way, people of Rei Bouba! ” 

The people had evidently been warned to keep out of 
sight if we walked about, and though I strolled along the 
streets of the city for the best part of the morning I did 
not see one of the three thousand people who lived there. 
I went back to the rest-house and reported to Powell- 
Cotton. 

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Mohammedans don’t like 
strangers wandering about near their homes. As for the 
Lamido, he’s just keeping us waiting to show how impor- 
tant he is, and how insignificant we are. He’ll see us 
soon.” 

But another three dreary days of confinement went by 
before the guards told us that the Lamido was ready to 
grant us an audience. Dressed in the neat clothes we 
always carried for such occasions, and escorted by our 
policemen, we followed the guards to the palace. This 
was a huge building of white-washed mud, surrounded 
by two high walls and a maze of stables, out-houses and 
courtyards. We were taken through a heavily guarded 
gate into the main outer courtyard, and there we began 

174 



to learn a little of the Lamido’s system of justice. 

Ambling about the courtyard was a magnificent black- 
maned lion, wearing a peculiarly benign and self-satisfied 
expression. He also wore a stout leather collar to which 
a long silver chain was attached, and at the other end of 
this was a young man who looked most unhappy. Our 
guards had grown more talkative during the walk to the 
palace, and they laughed loudly when they saw the 
young man with the lion. 1 ventured to ask what there 
was amusing about the sight. 

“The young man," explained the guard, “is a slave 
who has offended the Lamido. As a punishment he has 
been put in charge of his master’s pet lion. The animal is 
of uncertain temper, and sooner or later it will kill him." 

This, we learned, was a fairly common occurrence, and 
made a change from the orthodox executions which were 
performed by the unsavoury character we encountered 
in the second courtyard. The Public Executioner of Rei 
Bouba, whose photograph appears facing page 128, was a 
strong, elderly man encumbered with charms, amulets 
and leopard skins. In his right hand he bore an axe, and 
in his left a sort of iron hammer. Once more the guard 
was willing to explain: 

“When a man is condemned to death,” he told us, “he 
is handed over to the executioner, who places a chain 
round his neck and leads him about the street and public 
places collecting money from the charitable. After a few 
days the people grow tired of giving alms, and then the 
executioner fells his victim with a blow of the hammer 
on the back of his head and decapitates him with his 
axe.” 

We were allowed to photograph the executioner and 
also the pet lion — which we did from a safe distance—- 

175 



and then a naked slave took over from the guards and led 
us into the palace. Crawling on his hands and knees, 
never daring to look up, the slave presented us to the 
Lamido. His Highness was reclining on a sort of divan, 
clothed in a white and indigo gown, with a blue turban 
ending in folds wound round and hiding the lower part 
of his face. Only his eyes were visible, and they betrayed 
no sign of interest in us. Standing beside him was his 
Chamberlain or Vizier, who silently indicated that we 
might make use of the chairs placed near the Lamido. 
Neither of them said a word as we sat down, and the slave 
remained crouching, with his head touching the sandy 
floor. We waited to be addressed, but five minutes passed 
in dead silence. 

Powell-Cotton nudged me. “For goodness’ sake, say 
something.” I cleared my throat, and began the little 
speech I had prepared. 

“Your Highness,” I said, “we are pleased and honoured 
to make your . . . er . . . exalted acquaintance.” 

There was no reply. I began again. 

“We would like to tell you that our trip through your 
lovely country was most enjoyable and that we are deeply 
indebted to you for your hospitality and . . . er . . . 
cordial reception.” 

There was still no dnswer, but I was beginning to 
enjoy myself now, and I went on with a swing. 

"May we hope, your Highness, that you and your 
wives are well, and that your family and herds will 
multiply . . . ah . . . like the sands of the desert.” 

This last bit pleased me no end, and Powell-Cotton 
glanced at me with a curious glint in his eye. But there 
was no response from the Lamido. 

“As you know, your Highness,” I went on, "we are 

176 



hunters and we seek certain animals that are to be found 
only in these happy and blessed domains. . . 

Here the Vizier rudely interrupted, speaking for the 
first time. 

“He is a Lamido, not a hunter,” he said irritably. 

I did not know what to say to that, so I decided to 
ignore it, and went on; “We would be deeply indebted 
to your Highness if you would supply us with guides 
who know the country and who will show us where to 
find the animals we want.” 

Again it was the Vizier who spoke: “In two days’ 
time you will be given guides, fresh horses, provisions 
and carriers. The guides will show you everything.” 

There did not seem to be much more to say, so we got 
to our feet. To our surprise, the Lamido took each of us 
by the hand as we left and uttered the word “Bourdom”, 
which means, “It is well”. I met him again on two 
occasions before we left Rei Bouba, and that was the 
only word he spoke, though at my third meeting he took 
the covering from the lower part of his face, revealing a 
countenance that was petty and arrogant. This impres- 
sion was confirmed some time later by an incident which 
occurred when a senior French officer presented the 
Lamido with a decoration of honour. The officer pinned 
the medal to the Lamido’s robes, and then, thinking to 
please him further, offered a lesser decoration to his 
cavalry commander. The Lamido was so overcome with 
[jealousy at this that he tore off his own medal and threw 
it to the ground. But in spite of these short-comings, he 
was liked and respected by his own people and was a 
brilliant administrator of his feudal state. 

The guides and additional carriers provided for us at 
Rei Bouba belonged to the Kerdie tribe, a very primitive 

177 



people who had been enslaved by the Fulanis. They were 
sturdy, almost naked men who were reliable and hard 
workers, but their taste in food was revolting. Once, they 
extracted the stomach of a hartebeest I had just shot and 
squeezed the liquid contents of it into their mouths, 
assuring me that it was a most nourishing and appetising 
dish. The intestines were also eaten raw, after their 
contents had been squeezed out. The headman of the 
Kerdies had brought his wife along and one evening he 
announced that she was going to have a baby. Would I 
mind postponing our march for one day? In the circum- 
stances I was quite prepared to wait as long as he wished, 
but the woman had her baby that night and twenty-four 
hours later she slung it on her hip, hoisted her calabash 
of food on her head and was ready to move on. 

For two months we explored the Rei Bouba district 
searching for the giant Derby eland, but it appeared that 
most of them had been almost wiped out by an epidemic 
of rinderpest. We found a few skulls and also the spoor 
of a few lone eland, but since they had been decimated 
by disease we left them alone. Other game abounded, 
and we obtained giraffe, wart-hog, gazelles, reed-buck, 
hartebeest, oribi, water-buck, lion, buffalo, roan, and a 
funny little beast called the ratel or honey-badger, which 
is a relative of the skunk and has the same noisome 
faculties. 

Back in Garoua we reported to Carras on our reception 
by the Lamido and our failure to get giant eland. He 
suggested that we should try the Kone district, further 
south-west, and there at last we found those magnificent 
animals. Stalking them was difficult, for they moved like 
wraiths among the bush, and their striped hides blended 
so well with the vegetation that it was difficult to see 

178 



where the leaves ended and where the animals began. 

Eland do not graze but browse on leaves, and I have 
never seen a herd at rest. They are constantly moving at 
a fairly fast walk, snatching a mouthful here and there 
as they pass the bushes, and their camouflage makes it 
almost impossible to tell how many animals there are in 
the herd, let alone to select a suitable bull. Their great 
bulk, their long twisted horns laid back along the length 
of their bodies, and their lovely golden skins, with white, 
vertical stripes, place them among the finest animals in 
Africa. 

We followed our herd for over a week before shooting 
the single bull we wanted. Selecting him was a problem 
that took two or three days; at times it seemed impossible 
to get into position for a shot, for the animals were 
extremely suspicious and made off at the slightest dis- 
turbance; and then when everything seemed perfect 
and Powell-Cotton’s finger tightened on his trigger, a 
cow eland or a smaller bull would move across the line 
of sight, and the opportunity was lost again. But it was 
well worth while, for the animal we eventually secured 
was a prince of his kind. He stood five feet eight inches 
at the shoulder, and his horns were nearly three feet 
long. 

After this we went to Chamba, at the foot of the 
Atlantica Mountains, in search of smaller game, and at 
the court of the Sultan we met the strange person who 
was his court jester. He was a tall, excessively ugly man 
with a partly-shaven head. Charms hung from his top- 
knot and around his neck. He was naked above the 
waist, and his physique would have made many a “Mr. 
Universe” green with envy. We were invited to a display 
of his unusual talents, and he astonished us both with his 


179 



skill as a conjurei'. There, in the bright African sunlight, 
with no trick mirrors or black curtains, he went through 
his repertoire of magic. 

We were asked to examine a calabash, and when we 
had satisfied ourselves that it was quite empty and con- 
tained no hidden compartments, he took it from us, 
swept up a few handfuls of sand from the ground, and 
after swinging it around a few times he poured out a 
pound or two of groundnuts. Afterwards he brought a 
live hyena and wrestled with it, putting his arm between 
jaws that were capable of crushing a cow’s thigh-bone. 
Towards the end of this exhibition his little daughter 
joined him, and she too played with the dangerous 
animal with perfect trust and confidence. Several times 
he pushed the hyena’s nose into his arm-pit, where it 
licked up the perspiration, and I wondered whether 
this had some sort of soporific effect on the animal. It 
certainly has on domestic cats, which will spend hours 
sucking dirty clothes. 

I was not surprised that the hyena-man’s friends 
regarded him with superstitious awe. Harry Francis, 
the trader who kept a store at Edea in the southern 
Cameroons, once employed a European manager who 
made a hobby of conjuring and demonstrated a few of 
his sleight-of-hand tricks to the native customers, think- 
ing it would intrigue them. It did more than that : the 
natives thought the man was bewitched and they 
hurriedly transferred their custom elsewhere. Harry had 
to get rid of the man, and even then it was months before 
he got back his custom. 

From Chamba we went south to a little town called 
N’Gaoundere, where we added baboons, rock hyraxes 
and rabbits to our list. While Powell-Cotton rested I went 

j8o 



off alone to the wild M’Boum counti7 east of N’Gaoun- 
dere, looking for buffalo and elephant, but here I met 
with decided opposition from the people. Long after- 
wards I learned that I had been trespassing near some 
sacred caves which the people did not wish a European 
to see. They followed me about everywhere, and when- 
ever I got near a herd of buffalo or elephant they deliber- 
ately frightened them away. 

Back in N’Gaoundere I reported to Powell-Cotton that 
it would be a waste of time trying the M’Boum country 
for elephant, and we went south again to Lelo, in the 
Batouri district, where I was much more at home. 
Powell-Cotton was pleased when I told him that there 
was a chance of obtaining bongo in the forests round 
Lelo, for the bongo is a very rare and elusive antelope 
confined to the densest forest, and consequently seldom 
hunted by Europeans. Moreover, it is a courageous 
animal which, if wounded or brought to bay, will not 
hesitate to charge, and since all hunting in the forest is 
done at close quarters such a situation can be very 
dangerous. I knew two native hunters who were killed 
by bongo. 

I had already had some experience hunting this 
animal, but even with N’Denge’s help it was more than 
three weeks before I eventually found spoor which was 
indisputably bongo. Then followed a chase lasting ten 
days, while we caught only tantalising glimpses of the 
red, white-striped skins of cow bongo and sought in vain 
for the darker bulls. Like most forest animals, bongo 
depend more on hearing than on sight or smell, and 
they have a trick of doubling back on their tracks to 
investigate suspicious sounds. While you are cautiously 
following the spoor, the animal that made it might 

i8i 



already have turned back and be watching you from 
behind. 

The luck of the game fell to Powell-Cotton. N’Denge 
and I went off quartering the forest, leaving him resting 
on a tree-stump. He had been sitting there in complete 
silence when there was a rustle in the leaves behind 
him. Not ten yards away, partly screened by the creepers, 
stood a bull bongo, staring in the direction taken by 
N’Denge and I. He was dead with a bullet from the 
Major’s rifle before he even knew he was in danger. 

Our last hunt was to be for manatee, and a race of 
small elephant which we expected to find on the coast. 
There was ample time for this, and on our way west- 
wards from Batouri my companion expressed a wish to 
see the Sanaga river, and in particular a stretch just 
above the Nightingale Falls, which was famed for its 
beauty. The river was low, for it was the dry season, and 
it was divided into a series of deep pools by high rocky 
walls cutting across its bed. Over each of these natural 
dams the water thundered in cascades some six feet high. 

A year earlier, on my last visit to this part of the 
Sanaga, I had noticed a bull hippopotamus with an 
abnormal tusk growing sideways, projecting out of his 
mouth and upwards to his nostrils. Abnormalities of 
any kind are instructive and of particular interest to 
zoologists, and Powell-Cotton thought that this animal 
would be a valuable acquisition for the Museum. Hippo 
were very numerous here, but after some trouble we 
identified the animal we wanted in the second pool 
above the Nightingale Falls. We crossed by canoe to a 
small island standing about a hundred yards from the 
bank, and settled there waiting for the hippo to appear. 

There is nothing clever about shooting a hippopota- 

182 



mus. They are easy to find, easy to see and seldom 
dangerous. The only difficulties are that they may dis- 
appear below the surface for long periods if disturbed 
and their carcases are sometimes inaccessible in deep 
water. Hippos have never been considered as “game”, and 
normally they are shot only for meat or if they have 
caused serious damage to plantations. Our hippo was 
soon spotted, for his crooked tusk gleamed brightly in 
the sun, and Powell-Cotton shot him as soon as he sur- 
faced. He sank immediately, but swam a considerable 
way up-stream below the surface before he died and 
floated to the top. The current conveniently brought 
him drifting down to us, and he came ashore on a sandy 
spit of the island. 

It was intensely hot, and I decided to get the carcase 
over to the bank as soon as possible, so that we could 
skin it before it began to decompose. We had only one 
canoe, and Powell-Cotton was left alone on the island 
while I, with N’Denge and my two skin-men, began 
towing the carcase across. This, I quickly discovered, 
was a mistake. The channel between the island and the 
bank was narrow enough, but the water was deep and 
the current very strong. Before we had gone far, the 
hippo, dragged by the current, was solidly towing us 
down-stream towards the falls formed by the dam. 
N’Denge and the skin-men paddled away like mad, but 
the hippo was posthumously getting his own back and he 
had us firmly under control. Before we went over the falls 
I had a glimpse of Powell-Cotton sitting on the island 
with his head in his hands. I’ll swear he was laughing. 

Over we went : canoe, hippo and all. The canoe was 
smashed to bits and the hippo floated away lazily in the 
direction of the Nightingale Falls. Luckily we were all 

183 



at home in the water and our only fear as we struck out 
was of crocodiles, but we reached the bank unmolested. 

Now the tables were turned on Powell-Cotton, for there 
were no other canoes for miles, and he was marooned 
there in the hot sun as securely as Robinson Crusoe. I 
sent off N’Denge to look for another canoe and relaxed 
comfortably under the shade of a big tree until he re- 
turned later in the afternoon. We got the Major off just 
before sunset. 

I suppose that the manatee is one of the strangest 
animals in the world. The scientific name for the order 
to which it belongs is “Sirenia”, yet nothing could be 
more inappropriate, for this ugly, ungainly creature is 
far removed from my conception of the lovely beings 
that lured sailors to destruction. “Sirenia” is, in fact, 
derived from the belief that manatees, and their cousins 
the dugongs of Indian and Australian waters, gave rise to 
the legend of mermaids. This is understandable, for the 
female manatee has large, human-like breasts. Rising 
from the water at twilight, with perhaps a strand or two 
of weed on her head to suggest tresses, she might well 
seem partly human to the credulous eye. Once conceived, 
this idea would be supported by the female’s practice of 
holding the single, helpless young to her breast with her 
fore-flipper. The Cameroon natives call the manatees 
“Mammy Water”, and believe that some men fall under 
their spell and are compelled to spend the night with 
them— presumably above water. 

Manatees are found in the rivers of both Africa and 
tropical America, and in their adaptation to aquatic life 
they are surpassed among mammals only by the whales 
and dolphins, which they resemble in shape, having a 
horkontal tail-fin, flipper-like fore-limbs and no external 

184 



ears. The muzzle, however, is rounded and blunt, with 
a cleft, muscular upper lip, bearing a heavy moustache. 
They are about eight feet long and are pure vegetarians, 
feeding on river weeds. 

We failed to find any of these queer creatures our- 
selves, though we spent weeks canoeing up and down the 
estuary and creeks of the Nyong river. One day a party 
of fishermen caught a male manatee in their nets and we 
were able to purchase the skin and skeleton. The natives 
have a great liking for the flesh and invited us to taste it. 
We gingerly accepted a morsel or two, and found that 
it resembled pork. 

Only the elephants remained. There is really only one 
species of African elephant, though several races are 
distinguished by some authorities, and we were inter- 
ested in a small race that lived in the coastal forest 
between the mouth of the Nyong river and the village 
of Malimba. Apart from its smaller size, the differences 
between this and other races are perhaps of interest only 
to the specialist. There are some structural differences 
in the skull; the tusks seldom weigh more than eight 
pounds each and are considerably shorter and more 
curved. Because they are smaller, these elephants are 
more agile and therefore more difficult to hunt than 
other races, and they are also more aggi-essive, being apt 
to charge with little or no provocation. The natives call 
the common elephant “N’Jock” and the smaller one, 
which they fear much more, "Lokopak”. The two races 
share the same territories, and distinguishing between 
them in dense bush is often difiScult. Consequently we 
made some mistakes, and the first one nearly cost us 
our lives. 

Powell-Cotton had not been feeling well, and was find- 

185 



ing the hard tracking in heavy forest day after day rather 
too much for him. Nevertheless he persisted, and when 
we found the spoor of what we believed was a herd of 
the small race, we followed it up. Crossing a scream, we 
climbed a steep hill on the other side and, looking 
down, saw the trunk-tips of several elephants waving at 
us as they tried to get our scent. My companion moved 
a few paces to my left and fired, wounding but not kill- 
ing one of the beasts. He then came back and stood in 
front of me, getting a better view, but before he could 
shoot again we heard an angry squeal from our right, 
and a bull elephant came out of the bush towards us, 
bent on revenge. I fired and brought him down, and 
then, to my horror, Powell-Cotton suddenly collapsed 
at my feet. 

I knelt beside him, but looked up again instantly to 
see that the bull I had fired at was back on his feet and 
was coming at us, all set to kill. The rest of the herd had 
panicked and were stampeding around us, trumpeting 
furiously. I just had time for one shot, with the bull’s 
great grey bulk towering over us, and I fired from my 
kneeling position at an angle of forty-five degrees. The 
shock of the situation had ruined my aim, even at that 
close range, but my bullet raked across his shoulder, 
making him turn aside before he reached us. I loosed off 
more shots at the rest of the herd to frighten them off, 
and to my intense relief this succeeded and they charged 
away down the hill towards the stream. 

N’Denge and the skin-men had been following us at 
a discreet distance, but not surprisingly they had made 
themselves scarce when the elephants charged, and there 
was no reply when I called out to them. Near us was one 
of those huge cottonwood trees with a heavily buttressed 

186 



base, and I dragged my friend into the shelter of it. The 
elephant he had wounded was still struggling in the 
undergrowth and I went down and finished it off. It was 
not one of the small race after all, but a cow with only a 
single tusk. Powell-Cotton had only fainted, probably 
through exhaustion and heat, for when I carried water up 
from the stream in my hat and dashed it in his face he 
came round at once and without a word shook my hand. 

Powell-Cotton was one of the coolest men and finest 
shots I ever knew. When eventually we found a herd of 
the small race he shot two bulls, which were standing 
about thirty yards apart, with a right and a left barrel. 
The two shots sounded, and both animals must have died, 
almost simultaneously. Another time, after we had parted 
to cast about for fresh elephant spoor, I heard him fire, 
and rushed back. He was standing calmly surveying the 
undergrowth, with his rifle butt resting on the ground. 

“I’ve just shot one," he said, “and there’s another that 
might charge at any moment.’’ 

Among the trees just in front of him stood a fine tusker 
working himself up for a charge, but he changed his 
mind and made off. At such close range PoweU-Cotton 
would have had time for only one shot, yet he was as 
undisturbed as though his target had been a clay pigeon. 

Though I had hunted elephant many times before, I 
had never attempted the colossal task of skinning and 
preserving them. Under Powell-Cotton’s supervision, and 
with the assistance of some thirty natives, I made a deep 
cut round the exposed side of the dead bull’s neck, a 
second down the spine and a third down the chest and 
abdomen. Other cuts were made on the inside of each 
leg, across the soles of the feet and down the underside of 
the trunk. Half the skin was then removed, and with 

187 



stout saplings and lianas tied to the legs, the huge beast 
was rolled over on the other side, where work was con- 
tinued. The skin was so tough that our knives were 
quickly blunted and three men occupied the whole of 
their time sharpening them with files. 

When the skins had been removed they were stretched 
on racks and laid out to dry. Meanwhile, scores of 
villagers had arrived, frantic to get at the meat, I had 
great difficulty in restraining them until I had the 
skeleton intact, for in the scramble I was afraid of losing 
some of the small bones. African villagers go crazy for 
meat when they find a dead elephant or hippo. Opening 
up the carcase, they crawl right inside, indifferent to the 
blood and mess, in search of the choicest pieces. Once, I 
had to stop a fight over some tasty morsel between two 
women who were actually inside an elephant's abdomen. 
Another problem was that we had two elephants and the 
greatest care had to be taken to make sure that the two 
sets of bones did not get mixed up. I also had to guard 
the skeleton from the villagers, for though the huge 
bones of an elephant are solid and have no marrow, they 
produce an excellent cooking oil when broken and boiled 
down. 

Back in camp, deep pits were dug and the bones buried 
in them, so tliat all traces of flesh and fat would decay 
without the nuisance of smell. The skins were treated 
with preservative, and while they dried they were cleaned 
and thinned down. A carpenter from the village of 
Dehane was set to work building large wooden cases, and 
when both skeletons and skins were ready they were 
packed up and dispatched to Douala, where the rest of 
the collection was already waiting, and Powell-Cotton 
accompanied them home to England. 

188 



CHAPTER IX 


THE MENDJIM MEY 

The trip with Powell-Cotton lasted eighteen months and 
took us through many parts of the Cameroons, but where- 
ever I was and whatever I was hunting, gorillas were 
never far from my thoughts. When we were at Lelo 
after the bongo, I made friends with the old village 
chief M’Boor, who knew a great deal about gorillas and 
asked me whether I had ever looked for them in the 
Mendjira Mey country. I had only heard of this place, 
and no one had been able to tell me much about it. All 
I knew was that the Mendjim Mey was a vast, almost 
unexplored forest region lying south of the Doume river, 
inhabited by pygmies and by the primitive Mendjims, 
who hated strangers and were suspected of occasional 
cannibalism. 

M’Boor knew the Mendjims well. He disliked them, 
for they were the traditional enemies of his own people, 
and said that they were a lazy crowd who never worked. 
At the same time, he acknowledged them to be the finest 
gorilla hunters in Africa. Unlike other tribes they had 
no fear of gorillas, regarding them with contempt as un- 
armed bushmen. No Europeans had gone far into the 
Mendjim Mey for many years, and M’Boor could not see 
why anyone should want to. 

“For what man go for dis kin’ country?’’ he asked. 
“Dem Mendjims no get plopper chop (good food). All 
dey savvy do, be kill bush beef.” But because I, too, was 

189 



a hunter, he thought it possible that the Mendjims would 
not be hostile to me. “How you be shootman, sometime 
dey go like for look you,” was how he expressed it. 

Naturally I could not rest after hearing that, and I had 
already made plans before I left Powell-Cotton at Douala. 
When N’Denge, Atanaga and the rest of my men saw the 
last of the cases loaded on his ship, they heaved gusty 
sighs of relief, for they were expecting me to go home to 
Yaounde, where they looked forward to a quiet and peace- 
ful rest. There was consternation when they found me 
ordering stores for another safari, and panic when they 
heard where we were going. They knew about my escape 
fi'om the Maka people and expected no better treatment 
from the Mendjims, but they had been with me for years, 
and I do not think that the ide^ of deserting ever crossed 
their minds. When they had got over the initial shock 
they accepted the situation with their usual fatalism. 

When we got back to Lelo I found that M ’Boor’s men 
had caught a youirg male gorilla — about four years old I 
judged — and the old chief made a present of him to me. 
As usual, I had all my pets with me, and only the day 
before my fox-terrier bitch had added to their number by 
producing four pups, so that a quarter-grown gorilla was 
something of an embarrassment at that time. However, 
M'Boor said that his men wanted to kill the animal in 
revenge for the damage it had done to their crops, and 
that they would certainly do so if I did not take it away. 
I asked N’Denge and Atanaga what they thought about it. 

“Make we take dem N’gi for Mendjira Mey,” they 
advised. “We go make box an’ two men fit carry him.” 

That settled it, and while the “box” was under con- 
struction I tried to find out how tractable the animal 
might be. The villagers had named him Lumbindon, a 

190 



private joke of theirs, for that was the name of the par- 
ticularly ugly chief of an adjoining village, but they could 
not tell me whether or not he was tame and no one had 
gone into his cage to see. The cage was a huge affair- 
made of saplings lashed together with lianas and hinged 
on one side. I filled my pockets with bananas and slipped 
in through the door. The gorilla made no move, but sat 
hunched up at the other side of the cage watching me out 
of the corner of his eyes in the suspicious, cunning way 
gorillas have. I made no attempt to go up to him, but 
sat quietly where I was, holding out a banana. 

Presently he came over and snatched the banana from 
my hand, gobbling it down skin and all. After he had 
eaten half a dozen in this way I ventured to put out my 
hand to stroke him, but he bared his teeth and grabbed 
savagely at my arm, scratching me badly. That was 
enough for one day, so I left him to think things over. 
Afterwards I made repeated attempts to gain his confi- 
dence, always feeding him by hand, but he was too old to 
be tamed and could never be trusted. We took him with 
us on that safari and kept him nearly a year. Then, 
because there was no improvement in his behaviour, I 
passed him on to my agent at Batouri, who eventually 
sold him to a collector. 

It was not easy to get carriers from among M'Boor's 
men who were prepared to go into the Mendjim Mey, 
but several of the skin-men and gun-bearers who had 
been with Powell-Cotton and me came to Lelo and re- 
joined me. These included Collonel, who had been a 
skin-man of mine for many years; Dinga, a Kaka tribes- 
man, reputedly a member of the dreaded Labe Secret 
Society, and N’Gombe, a member of the Byar tribe near 
the Congo border, who were at that time in revolt. A 

191 



new motor road had been made through the Byar terri- 
tory, and it was a common sight to see lorries arriving 
at Yaounde from Byar with spears still protruding from 
their wooden sides. Another old faitlrful was Wo-Wo Foot, 
so called from his deformed feet. Many were the jokes 
made, and good-naturedly accepted by Wo-Wo, about his 
deformity. If ever I wanted someone to do an errand 
hurriedly the carriers always sent Wo-Wo Foot, and of 
course he took ten times longer over it than anyone 
else. 

In addition to these men I needed a large number of 
temporary carriers, for I had a lot of heavy equipment 
to carry. Through Powell-Cotton, Professor Ian Hill of 
the University College, London, had asked me to send 
him embryological material, and the late Sir Frank 
Colyer, of the Royal College of Surgeons, had asked for 
any skulls that showed sigirs of dental decay. This meant 
that I had to take several heavy cases containing jars of 
formalin and other preservatives, as well as my usual 
equipment. I needed about twenty carriers, and it was, 
surprisingly, Atanaga who solved this problem. I was 
arguing with M’Boor’s men, trying to convince them that 
it was perfectly safe to go into tire Mendjim Mey, when 
Atanaga suddenly chimed in. 

"Look at me,” he shouted angrily. "I be Yaounde 
man, and me, I no do fear. How you bushmen fear for 
go for bush?” 

This so stung the men that in a few minutes they were 
clamouring to come with me and I had to begin a process 
of elimination to reduce the number of volunteers. My 
final preparations were soon completed and a few days 
later we entered the Mendjim Mey. 

The Mendjims, I discovered, were administered — after 

198 




Besalla, outside the Mei fields’ house, holding a baby goiilla whose 
hands and feet were tied with vines and who was yelling loudly 






tut: 


Banana lorn down by 
marauding gorillas in 
scarclr of the stem’s 
succulent ]rith. The 
cane-liUe plant is afra- 
niomum, which pro- 
vides the gorilla with 
his staple food 

{Cmrlfsy Puivs IhCWo'i Muimm) 


Every morning tlieir 
two young gorillas 
wouldjointhe Merfields 
for hrealifast. Tarzan 
(left) was always much 
more impudent and 
forward than Jeeves 





a fashion — through a Paramount Chief ivho lived at 
Beselebot on the northern fringe of the territory. This 
man spoke French, but he received me suspiciously, and 
though he gave me a hut and provided my men with 
food, my first few days at the village were uncomfort- 
able. Thereafter our relationships rapidly improved. The 
Mendjims were a desperately poor people. During the 
rubber boom of the ’5o’s they had earned a little money 
to pay their taxes and to buy knives and cloth by selling 
meat to the native rubber tappers who entered their 
country. When the boom ended they had nothing to fall 
back on. They produced only enough food for them- 
selves and their men knew no other art than hunting. 
Suddenly, a new and wonderful source of income had 
appeared in their midst. Here was a European — slightly 
mad no doubt — who was prepared to pay for useless bones 
and skins, while he gave them back the only part of an 
animal that had any real value — its meat! 

The whole village went off hunting and I accepted 
almost everything they caught, alive or dead. Unfor- 
tunately there were only a few gorillas and chimpanzees 
in their area, so I did not stay with them long. N’Denge 
learned that the Mend jim village of Arteck was the centre 
of the gorilla country and I resolved to go there. At 
first the Paramount Chief was reluctant to let me go, and 
he warned me that the hunters of the interior -were not 
likely to be friendly, for they were jealous of their hunt- 
ing grounds. But he consented to lend me a guide when I 
told him that I would leave two of my skin-men behind 
to purchase and preserve the animals his people brought 
in. 

No wonder few white men ever bothered the Mend- 
jims I The forest was exceptionally dense and difficult to 

OOP / 991— G igg 



penetrate. There were the usual game trails, but they 
were blocked by monstrous fallen trees, heavily shrouded 
with lianas and woody creepers, so that it took hours to 
hack a way around them. The country was laced by wide, 
deep streams, with exceptionally strong currents, which 
made fording them extremely dangerous. The occasional 
bridges were in various stages of disrepair, and crossing 
them was a hair-raising adventure. The going was so 
tough that I had to let the carriers rest every hour or two. 
Birds and monkeys of rnany kinds abounded and we saw 
much elephant and buffalo spoor, but the carriers were 
not used to hunting and their constant chatter prevented 
us from seeing any game. 

The next village we came to was Kenyol, and waiting 
for us at its approaches was a figure who looked from a 
distance like a small boy dressed in the clothes of an adult. 
He was a tiny man, not much bigger than a pygmy, wear- 
ing an ancient and enormous greatcoat reaching almost 
to the ground. I-Iis hands were concealed far up the 
voluminous sleeves and his head bobbed about inside the 
vast, gaping collar as though it belonged to an animated 
puppet. His colour, too, was odd, for he was a partial 
albino, with a yellow skin and pale eyes. His antics were 
well in accord with this bizarre appearance; he couldn’t 
keep still for a minute and was for ever capeidng about, 
chattering nineteen to the dozen. He soon had us all 
roaring with laughter, to his own intense gratification. 

We were understandably amused and surprised to find 
that this born clown was the chief of Kenyol. His name 
was Mendjoum — “Little Chief Mendjoum’’ as we came 
to call him — and his authority rested entirely on his 
ability to keep everyone laughing. Mendjoum spoke good 
pidgin and invited me to stay at Kenyol in what he called 


194 



a “fine house too much”, which turned out to be a five- 
roomed hut so small that when I slept in it that night my 
feet were in one room and my head was in another. 
Before I turned in he came to see me, announcing that 
he had something important to say. 

He had heard, he said, that I was a good man and a 
great hunter, and that I paid well for animals. Moreover, 
I always gave back the meat and the belly. Therefore I 
was their father and their mother. What other man would 
do this thing? Who ever heard of a white man leaving 
his home to buy old bones? “All people wonder too 
much” what I wanted to do with them. Did I know that 
he, Mendjoum, should by rights be Paramount Chief 
of the Mendjims, and that the other man at Beselebot had 
got the job by bribing native officials with gifts of girls? 
Did I know that this man was cruel to his people, whom 
he flogged and robbed, and was I aware that he had 
already taken away the money I had paid them for the 
bones? 

Mendjoum ended this recital with an assurance of his 
own veracity. “Me, I no fit lie for some fine, fine white 
man like you be. You spot long, long time for we black 
man country an’ you savvy dat me I no lie. Small time 
you go look dat all t’ing I talk for you be true.” 

During the years that followed Mendjoum xvas to be- 
come a great friend of mine, and later also of my wife, 
but I stayed with him then for only a few days before 
going on to Arteck. Mendjoum, like the Paramount 
Chief, was reluctant to let me go, but I could not decide 
whether his motives stemmed from hope of personal 
gain or from genuine concern for my safety. Yes, he said, 
the Mendjims of the interior were magnificent hunters 
and their country was full of gorillas and other animals, 

195 



but they would certainly resent my intrusion, for they 
knew little of white men and their ways. 

As it turned out, the situation was very much in the 
balance. Leaving Mendjoum, we plunged again into the 
forest and struggled on for three hard days until we were 
ready to drop from exhaustion. The forest was cool and 
dark, with the trees supporting a great canopy of vegeta- 
tion which shut out all direct sunlight, and through this 
vast green cathedral of everlasting twilight the village 
drums were constantly resounding. What were they say- 
ing, I wondered? What were the people of Artcck being 
told about me, and what was their reaction to the news 
that a white man was coining. 

When at last we reached Arteck and found it appar- 
ently deserted, memories of my nightmare stay among 
the Maka cannibals flooded over me in a wave of despair. 
There seemed to be three alternative lines of action: I 
could turn back, but that was unthinkable; I could arm 
N’Dcnge, Collonel and the others, and hope that this 
show of force would frighten the Mendjims into co- 
operation; or I could go alone and unarmed into the 
village and hope for the best. It was the third course that 
I decided on, but I made two modifications to it. Under 
my shirt I concealed a revolver and I took Dinga with 
me to carry my chair, for this was a native custom sym- 
bolising a person of rank and consequence. 

Crossing a small stream, I walked through a patch of 
grassy bush and entered the village, which consisted of 
two rows of huts facing each other. As I passed along the 
lines of huts I saw out of the corner of my eye that the 
villagers were inside, staring at me through cracks in the 
walls and doorways. I took no notice of them, but marched 
straight on to the watch or guard-hut of the village which 

iq6 



stood in the centre on a small artificial mound. I sat 
down on my chair, with Dinga standing beside me, pulled 
out a packet of cigarettes and began to smoke. 

I still remember those cigarettes — an unopened packet 
of ten Gold Flake. An hour passed without a sound or a 
movement in the village until I had smoked all but one 
of them. Then the door of one of the huts cautiously 
opened, four men came out and walked slotvly up to me. 

Three of them wore only strips of bark-cloth, supported 
by belts of gorilla skin. The fourth wore, in addition, a 
head-dress of monkey skins and several very large bangles 
of ivory. Each of them carried three heavy spears. 

When they were six paces from me they stopped un- 
decided what to do. I spoke to them in the Yaounde 
language, hoping that one of them would understand. 

“Where is your chief?” I asked. 

They just stared at me, making no answer, so I put my 
hand in my jacket pocket and brought out another packet 
of cigarettes, which I offered to them. At this sudden 
movement they sprang back, raising their spears, but they 
relaxed again when they saw the cigarettes. One of them 
stretched forward, took the whole packet and surprised 
me by speaking in pidgin. 

“Massa, we t’ank yoir,” he said. 

“You savvy English?” I asked. 

The man nodded, still looking uncertain. I repeated 
my original question in pidgin. 

“Which side be you’ king?” 

The man pointed to the man wearing the monkey 
skin head-dress. “Dis be him,” he said. “Him name be 
Oballa.” 

I offered Oballa my hand, but he just nodded and 
waved. I thought he was refusing to shake hands, but 

197 



\vhen I looked round I found that a crowd of spearmen 
had crept up behind me and that Oballa was waving them 
back. At this sign, the tension disappeared like magic. 
Oballa shook hands with me and grinned, revealing that 
he had only two teeth in his upper jaw. They had been 
hied to points, like those of all the Mendjims, and they 
so much resembled the canines of a cat that my men 
afterwards nicknamed him Tiger-mouth. Meanwhile, 
the villagers came pouring out of their huts, chattering 
excitedly and pointing to my clothes, which seemed to 
amuse them vastly. My carriers waitiirg on the other 
side of the stream, seeing that all was well, crossed over, 
bringing my pets and equipment. The Mcndjim who 
spoke pidgin said that his name was Besalla and that I 
might live in the guard-hut while I stayed with them. 
This was the first incUextion that I was to be allowed to 
.stay at all. My things were unpacked under the curious 
eyes of all the villagers, who excitedly commented on 
each article as it came to light. A hundred black fingers 
pointed in astonishment at my cat, an animal that none 
had .seen before. Then Percy, my parrot, fluttered up on 
to the eaves of the hut, stretched his wings and remarked, 
“Good morning, Massa.” 

There was dead silence. Everyone stopped talking and 
looked about for the source of these words. Percy regarded 
the assembly with a benevolent eye. “Morning, Massa," 
he said again. 

This time the villagers spotted the bird and they 
crowded round, pointing to him in gi-eat excitement. 
With so appreciative an audience, what could Percy do? 
Cackling a bit to clear his throat, he launched off into a 
long speech. 

“Morning, Massa, morning, Massa. You well, Massa? 

198 



Cook, bring Massa cofEee! ” he croaked; but by then his 
audience was convulsed with laughter. Never had they 
heard anything so funny as a parrot that talked ! When 
they subsided a bit, I explained ihi'ough Besalla that I 
had taught the bird to say these words, and they goggled 
in admiration at the mighty hunter to whom even the 
birds spoke when he commanded them. If there had 
been any doubt of my welcome before, Percy had cleared 
it up, and afterwards their friendliness and hospitality 
towards me knew no bounds. 

That night I heard gorillas making their queer gurg- 
ling noise very near the village. In the morning I had a 
long talk with Besalla and went off with him to explore 
the surrounding forest. Within an hour I had found 
twenty gorilla beds in three sets, all of them recently 
vacated, and there were abundant gorilla tracks and signs 
of their feeding. Besalla did not consider this remark- 
able and confirmed that there were “plenty too much 
N’gi for we country”. In the village there were many 
gorilla bones and skulls to be seen, and most of the men 
wore belts of gorilla skin. There was no doubt in my 
mind that here was the country’ I had sought for so long. 
Gorillas were my neighbours at last. 

# # # 

A day or two later I paid off the canners and sent them 
back to Lelo. I kept with me Dinga, Collonel, N’Denge, 
Wo-Wo Foot, and Atanaga, telling them to prepare for a 
long stay. In that case, they said, they would need their 
women; could they send a messenger off for them? Of 
course I agreed, and amid much laughter, ribaldry and 
back-slapping, they chose Wo-Wo for this important 
mission. I imagined it to be their usual joke on him, and 


199 



expected them to send someone more fleet-footed at the 
last minute, for though Wo-Wo could keep up with our 
slow forest safaris, especially when he had only to follow 
the paths we cut, the trip to Lelo would have taken an 
able-bodied man five hard days, and Wo-Wo could not 
have done it in twice that time. But Wo-Wo went olf 
grinning widely: no one else was sent after him and he 
did not come back that night. I was very much taken 
aback next morning when he returned with all the 
women, but it was considered the very CTeam of the joke 
that poor, crippled Wo-Wo should have done a ten-day 
journey in ten hours. The truth was that the women had 
been following our safari all the time, and were hiding 
nearby in the bush, waiting for my approval of their 
presence. 

The huts of Arteck had walls of bark and roofs of palm- 
leaves, and were partitioned into three or four rooms. 
Later on 1 was able to make a complete census of the 
population. There were 57 men, 8s women, 71 boys and 
51 girls. These people were so poor that the Govern- 
ment had reduced their taxes to a minimum, and I 
believe that they were the lowest in the Cameroons. 
Taxes were collected by native soldiers who toured the 
forest for that purpose once a year, under a native oflicer, 
for no European olficial ever entered the Mendjim Mey. 
Even medical missionaries and Government doctors never 
went beyond Meyoss on the very fringe of the territory. 

Almost all agricultural work was done by the women. 
Each had her own plantation, cleared of hush by the 
men, and in this she planted groundnuts, sweet potatoes, 
cassava and maize. Sometimes the women also grew 
bananas or plantains, but these were usually grown 
behind the huts by the men. Kitchen refuse — the only 


300 



manure they ever used — was thrown round the base of 
the stems. 

The men spent most of their time hunting or making 
weapons. They never hunted in groups of more than two 
or three, and it is a tribute to their courage tliat they 
fearlessly attacked big male gorillas with spears at close 
range. They w^ere often injured, but I never heard of 
one being killed. It is important to remember that they 
hunted gorillas only for food or to protect their crops. 

Religion, so far as I could gather, played no part in 
their lives, but they conformed to a strict and complex 
system of tribal laws. Taboos relating to the food eaten 
by pregnant women were of particular importance. Here 
is a table of the proscribed animals and the effect attri- 
buted to eating their flesh : 

Bongo: Baby will have bad .sores on its legs. 

Water Chevrotain: Slight .scratches on the newly 
born infant will increase in size and never heal. 

Red- or Yellow-backed Duiker: Still-birth; or 
excessive menstruation in women who are not 
pregnant. 

Giant Forest Hog: Child will be born hairy. 

Elephant: Child with abnormally large feet. (This 
might be an attempt to account for the disease 
knowd as Elephantiasis.) 

Red River Pig: Flesh from the head of this animal 
produces children with warts. 

White-bellied Duiker: Newly-born child might lose 
consciousness, but will recover again if a situtunga 
skin is spread over it. 

Fowls: Not to be killed during wife’s pregnancy, or 
child will die. 

ocp/991 — G* ^01 



Fish: Child will be boi'n covered with a red rash 
and will die. 

If the flesh of the yellow-tipped Ear monkey is eaten by 
a woman, it will prevent her husband from shooting 
straight. The flesh of goats, gorillas and chimpanzees is 
entirely forbidden to women. 

Polygamy is general. Besalla had four wives and the 
chief Oballa had six. Girls are considered nubile when 
they are between twelve and fourteen, and for the most 
part they get on well with their fellow wives. Each 
spends two consecutive nights with her husband, though 
the senior wife, who has authority over the others, may 
spend longer. The woman thus honoured also has to 
cook for her husband during the period she is with him 
and to supply the food from her own plantation, so that 
the more wives a man has, the less work they have to do. 
Intercourse is forbidden during pregnancy and during 
the two-year suckling period, and if this law is broken it 
is believed that the child will die. On the death of a man 
his women are inherited, along with his other property, 
by his sons, who may marry them or sell them again. 
Thus a woman is always some man’s property, and may 
be sold and re-sold two or three times. It would never 
occur to these women that they could lead any other kind 
of life, and they are as happy as women anywhere else. 
If their owner-husband happens to be old or frigid they 
soon find more vigorous loves elsewhere, usually with 
the husband’s consent. 

I once asked Besalla why he needed more than one 
wife. "Man no want chop (eat) Jamba Jamba every day,’’ 
he chuckled. Jamba Jamba is a kind of spinach which 
upsets your stomach if eaten too often. 


SOS 



Boys are circumcised at puberty, usually in June, but 
there is no special ceremony. The operation is performed 
without anaesthetic by the village witch doctor, using a 
sharp iron knife, and is watched with great interest by 
the young girls. A boy who cries out or shows any sign of 
pain is teased for weeks afterwards and has great diffi- 
culty in finding a wife. As soon as possible the boy is 
given over for instruction in love-making to his father’s 
eldest wife, usually a woman past child-bearing, and 
remains with her until he is old enough to buy a wife of 
his own. (This, as I had learned before, was a custom 
practised by several tribes in the Cameroons.) The 
Mendjim men file their teeth to points, without any ill 
effect, yet if a European breaks a tooth or even cracks 
the enamel, decay very soon sets in. 

In the Mendjim Mey, girls are bouglit with goats, 
sheep and dogs — which are kept principally for that pur- 
pose — or with “Bride Money’’ called N’Jouice, which are 
flat, oblong pieces of native-smelted iron with long taper- 
ing handles. A virgin, of less value than an experienced 
woman, costs five or six pieces of Bride Money, and a 
woman who has had one child by another man may fetch 
eight or nine. Bride Money pieces are made by the men, 
who believe that if they have relations with a woman on 
the day of smelting, the ore will produce very little iron. 

Witch-craft plays an all-important part in their lives. 
Once, when the men had no luck in hunting, Oballa 
decided to “make medicine’’ to see if their luck ^vas going 
to change, or whether .someone among them “had witch”. 
The men lined up in the village street, laying their spears, 
cross-bows and arrows beside them on the ground. The 
women and girls formed up in another line facing the 
men. Oballa then took a fowl, slit its throat and sent it 


303 



staggering down between the two lines. Blood from the 
dying bird sprinkled over the weapons and it eventually 
collapsed on one of the spears. This was the good omen 
they had been hoping for and everyone was delighted. 
Had the fowl died at the feet of a woman she would have 
been accused of witch-oraft and driven from the village. 

Snares and game-pits are used for catching animals, and 
when a Mendjim finds an animal in his trap, he breaks 
off a Y-shaped twig and thrusts it into the nostrils of the 
animal before carrying it home, where the twig is re- 
moved and carefully preserved. Before setting out on the 
next visit to the traps, he breaks the twig across his fore- 
head and throws the two parts one over each shoulder. 
This ensures that more animals will be found in the 
traps. 

After I had been with the Mendjim Mey for several 
months and had gained some influence over them, I was 
visited by Que-ar-Bar, the chief of another village, who 
asked for my help in the matter of making medicine to 
help him hunt. This was the story he told me, speaking 
in his own language : 

“Years ago I married my first wife, who is the sister 
of Besalla. Recently Besalla encouraged her to desert me, 
saying that I do not like her any more. She has borne me 
two children and I still like her, though it is true that I 
have four younger wives with whom I sleep very often. 
After all, does not every old man like me enjoy young 
girls? Now the custom of our people is that when we 
want to hunt gorillas, our eldest wife must make medi- 
cine for us. She takes a small piece of bamboo and lights 
it in the fire, then she spits on it and rubs the charred 
end on our foreheads. I have hunted gorillas three times 
lately, but I failed because my eldest wife was not there 

204 



to make this medicine. Will you tell Besalla to send her 
back to me? If she does not come I shall never again 
succeed in hunting gorillas.” 

I promised to do my best, and when Que-ar-Bar had 
gone I sent for Besalla and the woman. They grumbled 
a lot, but Besalla agreed to send her back, and the woman 
said she would perform the magical duties required of 
her. I met Que-ar-Bar again a few weeks later and he 
said that the woman had kept her promise and that his 
luck had returned. 

Tribal warfare, of course, had been put down long ago, 
but many of the older Mendjims remembered those days. 
Pomtula, of Arteck, gave me this account of a raid made 
against the Kaka people, who lived to the north of the 
Mendjim Mey. 

“When I was a young man I was a great warrior, and 
my father was the chief of this village. One day we went 
through the forest to Toukou in the Kaka country and 
then on to Bimba, which we burnt to the ground after 
swimming across the Doume river. The Kakas heard us 
coming and ran away, but we killed many of their men 
and captured many girls, whom we brought back here 
and sold. We brought back the hoys too, and kept them 
as slaves. We ate the men we killed, taking out first the 
stomach, liver and heart, which of course are the best 
part of man or animal. We brought other Kaka men back 
here alive and gave them to our fathers, who killed them 
for food. Our fathers tied up these men and killed them 
by carefully cutting their throats, so that the blood could 
be drained off and drunk. We also killed and ate some 
of the women. Everyone tried to get the sexual organs, 
which are the nicest parts, being full of fat, 

“Our chief, my father, commanded us when we went 

805 



to battle, and he wore a plume of red parrot feathers on 
his head. We the Mendjims were the strongest tribe, for 
we had guns. Only the N’Jem people had guns beside 
ourselves. I do not know where they came from, but they 
were bush-guns (flint-locks) not nice guns like yours, and 
we bought them with ivory. Sometimes our young men 
went away for months and brought these guns back with 
them. When I was very young, another tribe called the 
Gart used to make xvar on us. They came from the xvest 
(the Akonalinga side) and they too had guns. They were 
always taking away our men and women. They joined up 
with the Kakas and used them as guides, but we beat 
them all at last. We hate the Kakas even to-day.” 

Oballa had a much more recent account of cannibalism 
to tell me. ‘‘Nine years ago,” he said, “the Paramount 
Chief of the Mendjim Mey came to Arteck and had a row 
with my father, xvho told him to get out. The Paramount 
Chief refused to do so, so my father caught him and tied 
him up. He cut a hole in each of his fore-arms, pushed 
pieces of liana through the holes and tied him to a spiky 
tree. Then he opened his belly and took out his liver. 
He roasted the liver and found that it tasted bitter, so 
he did not eat it and he burned the rest of the body. The 
Government found out about this and they sent a lot of 
policemen to catch my father. They did not kill him, but 
they put him in prison where he died last year.” 

As I had been told, the men of Arteck were very jealous 
of their hunting grounds, and although they xvere de- 
lighted to sell me the animals they caught or killed 
themselves, for a long time they refused to let me go 
hunting with them or by myself, and I dared not forfeit 
their goodwill by defying this ban. One day, N’Denge 
came and told me that a pair of gorillas had been raiding 

206 



a sugar-cane plantation owned by one of Besalla’s wives, 
and that Besalla was going to kill them. I hurriedly inter- 
viewed him, offered him compensation for the damaged 
sugar-cane, and begged him to leave the gorillas alone 
while I studied them. He agreed to this, and I got 
N’Denge and Collonel to build me a hide on the planta- 
tion from which I could watch the gorillas without being 
seen. 

I do not like being sentimental about animals, but I 
must confess that I fell for that pair of gorillas as soon 
as I set eyes on them. They had both just reached 
maturity and were obviously in the first year of their 
life together. The female was pregnant, with about a 
month to go, and was scarcely half the size of her gigantic 
lover. Every morning they came out of the bush at 
about seven o'clock, sat down in the plantation and began 
to break down all the sugar-cane within reach. Usually 
they took only a bite or two at each cane before discarding 
it for another, so that, as usual, they ruined far more 
food than they could eat. One day one of Besalla’s wives, 
ignoring her husband’s instructions not to visit the plan- 
tation while I was there, put in an appearance and was 
seen by the gorillas. The female at once made for the 
bush, but the bull stood erect and beat on the top of his 
vast belly, whereupon the woman hastily retreated and 
the bull sat down again to resume his interrupted meal. 

Within a week the gorillas had destroyed half the plan- 
tation. Besalla was furious, pointing out, quite rightly, 
that money could not replace his lost food. He insisted 
that I should shoot them, and threatened to kill them 
himself if I did not. If my gorillas had to die I preferred 
to shoot them, for the spears and poisoned arrows of 
Besalla would have given them a slow and cruel death, 

307 



so the next time I went to the hide I took my rifle with 
me. Strangely enough, they did not appear that morn- 
ing, and when Bcsalla heard of this he at once decided 
that they must be ju-ju gorillas. They had known by 
magic, he said, that I would have my gun with me, and 
had kept away. Moreover, there was no doubt that they 
were destroying his plantation in revenge for the gorillas 
he had killed. 

I prevailed upon him to give me another chance, and 
the next morning he came with me to the hide. This 
time the gorillas turned up as usual, but when 1 looked 
along the sights of my Mannlicher I could not bring 
myself to kill them. Instead, I fired three times just 
above their heads, and I was delighted to see the pair of 
them rush back into the forest. But Besalla’s anger had 
now turned to fear; he refused to believe that I had fired 
without intending to kill, and was convinced that the 
ju-ju gorillas had warded off my bullets by magic. 

That evening there was a big palaver in the village, 
and the witch-doctor worked furiously preparing all 
kinds of charms and ju-jus against the gorillas. I hoped 
that they would not raid the plantations again, after the 
scare I had given them, but they turned up on the other 
side of the village two days later. Armed with the charms 
and ju-jus, as well as with spears and cross-bows, Besalla 
took his men off to track them down, leaving me dis- 
consolate and unhappy in the village. In the evening 
they brought back the body of the female. My diagnosis 
of her condition was correct, and I bought and preserved 
the almost fully-developed foetus, which I sent to the 
University College, London. The young bull, however, 
had escaped the hunters, and so far as I know he never 
again appeared in Arteck. 


208 



By now I was sending a constant stream of animals 
out of the Mendjim Mey through the hands of agents to 
collectors, zoos, museums and other scientific institu- 
tions. As the Mendjims got used to me and realised my 
economic importance to them, the last vestiges of their 
reserve disappeared, and they began taking me into the 
forest or letting me hunt there alone. Through their 
kindness I was able to spend many happy months study- 
ing the numerous gorilla families that lived within a few 
miles radius of Arteck, and the many other kinds of 
fascinating creatures that abounded in the forests. 

Soon after my arrival at Arteck, a small boy brought 
me a baby putty-nosed monkey, only a few days old, My 
bitch fox-terrier was still suckling her four pups, and as 
an experiment I handed the tiny, spidery thing over to 
her care. She accepted it without a murmur of dis- 
approval, and half an hour later I found it sucking away 
alongside the pups as vigorously as the best of them. 
Another kind of monkey common in the forest was the 
Debrazza. They are nearly always found near streams and 
are excellent swimmers. I had one in Yaounde for years 
and it regularly swam in my duck-pond. Fresh-water 
prawns and crabs were found in the Mendjim Mey 
streams, and made excellent eating. The prawns were 
nearly three inches long, but the crabs were compara- 
tively small, measuring about five inches across the shell. 

I found many red river pigs and occasionally the rare 
giant forest hog. The latter live in pairs, not in herds 
like other pigs, and are browsers, not rooters. When it 
is almost time for her to farrow, the sow makes a pile of 
leaves and crawls underneath, while the boar stands guard 
and will attack any approaching man or beast, as I several 
times found to ray cost. The boar is difficult to see in the 

509 



undergrowth and will not make a sound until he is almost 
upon you. Red river pigs do not differ much from other 
members of the pig family, but one of them got mixed 
up in a bit of witch-craft in Arteck which I have never 
been able to understand. 

I was strolling about the village early one morning 
waiting for Atanaga to make my coffee, when I heard an 
old woman calling out from her hut. A young sow red 
river pig came trotting out of the forest and walked 
straight into the woman’s hut, where it was caught and 
tied up. I asked Oballa how this extraordinary thing 
happened, and this is what he told me. 

“The old woman is called Etcheck and she is the 
mother of Juoute, a lazy man who will not go hunting. 
I had him flogged for his laziness not long ago, because 
his family have no meat to eat. But Etcheck is a witch 
who has power over animals, and this is the second one 
she has called out of the forest. The first time she called a 
buffalo came to her hut and the young men slew it with 
their spears. Now you have seen her call up a pig, but 
you are a white man and you will not believe this magic.” 

The sow was certainly a wild animal — I made sure of 
that — and I have no idea why it should have surrendered 
voluntarily as it did. I bought it alive from the old 
woman, and when it became reasonably docile I sent it 
to Batouri, where it became the second wife of the famous 
boar Abock, whose story is told in the next chapter. 

In April there were the huge and beautiful leaf toads 
lying among the fallen leaves on the forest floor. They 
have yellow backs and red sides, closely resembling 
autumn leaves. I tried skinning one of them and two days 
afterwards I developed sores between my fingers. Besalla 
said it was due to a poison secreted from the glands in 


aio 



the toad’s head. Mixed with the crushed seeds of the 
plant Strophantis, this substance, in the form of a sticky 
brown paste, was the poison used on arrows and darts. 

Inside a hollow tree I discovered hundreds of fruit 
bats, with chestnut-coloured fur and fantastic, rosette- 
shaped noses. Their bodies were nearly five inches long 
and they had a wing-span of about twenty-six inches. 
Fruit bats used to swarm on the raffia palms near Arteck 
once every two or three years, and the villagers caught 
them by the score, stringing them together like onions 
and smoking their bodies after the viscera had been 
removed. I saw one of these swarms myself. There were 
many thousands of bats, and their combined weight had 
broken down dozens of the big palms. 

Some years later, at Bafang, in the north-\vest, I saw 
another swarm of fruit bats, this time on oil jaalms. They 
stayed for two days, and when they left the trees looked 
as though they had been tom to jneces by a violent storm. 
It took them years to recover. Unlike the Mendjims, the 
Bamileke people of Bafang made no attempt to catch 
them, and they looked at me in disgust when I asked 
whether they were not good for food. In both swarms, 
every female bat had a tiny baby clinging to her fur 
under her leathery wings, so that it may be that the 
swarmihg had something to do with breeding. 

One day in October, during my first year at Arteck, 
thousands of Abdim storks, apparently on migration, 
came flying across the forest from a northerly direction 
and settled in the trees. These large black and w'hite 
birds are venerated by the tribes in the north of the 
Cameroons, who consider it a good omen if they roost on 
their huts. The storks are therefore without fear of man, 
but the Mendjims thought of them only as food and did 


211 



great slaughter among them before they took off again 
and disappeared south-east. 

Among the very rare animals I caught were several 
giant water shrews, which are about the shape and size 
of a small otter, but with the tail flattened vertically. 
Several attempts have been made to get these animals 
back to Europe and America alive, but I do not think 
anyone has yet succeeded. My own specimens died with- 
in a few weeks of capture, in spite of everything I could 
do. Though I bought other giant water shrews from the 
villagers, I always let them go again, because it seemed 
impossible to keep them alive. 

Of the many baby animals caught and brought to me 
from time to time, perhaps the most lovelv were a trio 
of genet kittens. These are small, cat-like, spotted 
animals, which live almost exclusively in the trees, prey- 
ing on birds and small mammals. Though they are pretty 
and playful they do not make good pets, for they do not 
become wholly tame and can never be trusted. They are 
too small, of course, to do you much harm, but their bites 
and scratches can be deep and very painful. 

More than six months passed before I made friends 
with the Mendjim Mey pygmies, whom the Mendjims 
call Bomanjock, or elephant men. They are seldom more 
than four feet six inches tall, and of a lighter colour than 
the average West African tribesman. They have a primi- 
tive language, they make and use a few weapons and 
cooking utensils, and they wear loin-cloths of skin; but 
they have no art, no decorations or ornaments, and no 
agriculture. In fact their way of life is not much more 
advanced than that of the gorilla. Their little huts, 
shaped rather like an Eskimo’s igloo, consist of saplings 
stuck into the ground with others attached to them 


Jfl2 



laterally, and covered with huge leaves like tiles. Encamp- 
ments of these huts are never occupied for more than a 
week or two and are always near streams, which are used 
as paths so that there is no trail leading to the encamp- 
ment. The pygmies live entirely by hunting and they 
are as clever at it as any animal, crawling up through the 
undergrowth to within a few feet of elephants and spear- 
ing them to death. In a later part of this book I have 
described how I actually saw this happen. 

Organised gorilla round-ups in the Mendjim Mey took 
place only once or twice during my stay there. The 
Mendjims preferred to hunt gorilla families with cross- 
bows and poisoned darts, after disposing of the Old Man 
with spears, and like the Nvelle people they mutilated 
the animals terribly. They could not understand why 
they should deny themselves the savage delight in cruelty, 
and for a time the skins they tried to sell me were too 
badly cut to be of any value. But when they learned that 
I would not buy skins that were punctured all over with 
spear thrusts, they took care to kill as cleanly and effici- 
ently as they could, and though there were times when 
they could not restrain themselves, for the most part 
their gorilla hunts became no more cruel than the 
slaughter of cattle in British abattoirs. 

This, of course, took time, and the first Mendjim 
gorilla hunt I saw was horrible. One evening in Novem- 
ber Besalla came and told me that a family of gorillas 
were making their beds a few hundred yards behind the 
village and that his hunters were going after them in the 
morning. He invited me to come and watch, but extracted 
a promise from me that I would on no account use my 
rifle. We all got up at five o’clock in the morning, but 
it was wet and misty and Besalla said that in such weather 


213 



the gorillas would not leave their beds until after dawn. 

We left the village soon after it was light, our party 
consisting of N’Denge, Collonel, myself, Besalla and five 
of his hunters, each armed with a spear, a cross-bow and 
a quiver containing about fifty poisoned darts. We soon 
found the gorillas’ beds, which were still warm from the 
heat of their bodies, and fresh tracks leading into the 
forest. The gorillas had gone off in a single file and Besalla 
thought they were returning to a patch of aframomum 
further on where they had been feeding the day 
before. 

I was asked to wait while Besalla and his men tracked 
the gorillas, and only a few minutes after they left me I 
heard the animals screaming and barking. Besalla came 
back to say that the Old Man had been driven off and 
that two of his men had gone after him, while three other 
gorillas had been treed. He asked me to come and watch, 
but warned me again that I was not to shoot. 

When I reached the tree I found a three-quarter grown 
male, an adult female and a much smaller one. which I 
could not sex, moving about in a state of great agitation 
in the branches above. Besalla’s two remaining hunters 
were cutting away the undergrowth around the base of 
the tree, while he stood guard, and when this was done 
they began to beat on the trunk with the shafts of their 
spears. The young bull gorilla started to come down, but 
when he got almost within reach of the spears he went 
back up again. 

Besalla then took up a position some twenty feet from 
the tree and said that he was going to shoot at the young 
bull, so that his angle of fire was about forty-five degrees. 
I watched his target through my field glasses, for I wanted 
to see what happened when the gorilla was hit, but Besalla 

ai4 



missed with his first two or three shots. The cross-bow 
clicked again and this time the gorilla clapped his hand 
to his thigh, and gave a grunt. He broke off the dart 
with his hand, and when a second dart struck his shoulder 
he attacked it with his teeth, grunting and screaming all 
the time. There were further clicks of the cross-bow, and 
the gorilla was hit in the stomach and back, but many of 
Besalla’s shots missed altogether. Meanwhile, the other 
gorillas had also been hit and they were all infuriated, 
tearing at the branches with their teeth and hands. To 
my astonishment, the bull tore off a dead branch and 
flung it at the hunters beloxv, after peering about to 
locate them accurately. The female was bouncing up and 
down on the branch, with the intention, Besalla declared, 
of breaking it off and dropping it on our heads. 

About half an hour after the shooting began, the 
gorillas started to retch and groan, supporting themselves 
with their feet and hands. Then they began to vomit and 
sway about in agony, their muscles relaxed, they swayed 
more and more, as though they were drunk, and finally 
two of them died and came tumbling down out of the 
branches. The third and smallest one crawled along to 
a fork in the tree and died there, rvhere it was impossible 
to reach it. The dead female, I found, had a crippled 
right foot and a diseased and withered left fore-arm, the 
hand being bent inwards and the elbow rigid. Besalla 
said that the disease was called Chully-Chang and that it 
was caused by the poison of the liana or vine known as 
Nqua-Zock. The young bull had a bad wound on the 
inner side of his right wist, which looked as though it 
had been inflicted during a light with another gorilla, 
probably an Old Man with whom he had disputed leader- 
ship of the family. In each of his shoulder blades there 



was a strange and quite inexplicable hole, about the size 
of a sixpenny piece. 

The hunters who had gone after the Old Man returned 
as I was examining these animals, one of them with a 
broken arm. This was his story: 

“We followed the big gorilla, and when he discovered 
that he could not get away from us he climbed into a low 
tree, which is what we hoped he would do, so that we 
could use our poisoned darts. I fired one dart and my 
companion fired another. Both of them hit the gorilla 
and he began to come down the tree. When he was 
about eight feet from the ground the other man threw 
his spear at him and ran away, but I waited until he was 
nearer and then stuck my spear in his belly and held on 
to it. The gorilla screamed and twisted round the tree, 
but I held on and he let go of the tree and fell on top of 
me, breaking my arm. He tried to crawl away, but the 
other man came back and speared him again and again 
until he died. My arm will soon get better, for we will 
make ‘country medicine’ for it. Many people have their 
arms broken, but they always get well again.’’ 

When I saw the man the next day his arm was covered 
with mashed leaves and supported by a wooden splint 
reaching from his arm-pit to just below his elbow, while 
he grasped a two-inch piece of wood to prevent his hand 
from growing stiff. 

Some eighteen months after this I was in need of 
“country medicine’’ myself. I had been feeling unwell 
for several days and eventually I became so bad that I 
had to go to bed and stay there — z rare event in my life. 
The pain that had been gnawdng at my stomach grew 
agonising — I thought I had been poisoned — and although 
I dosed myself lavishly with all the few simple remedies 

316 



I had with me — quinine, aspirin and Epsom Salts — 
grew steadily worse. Atanaga was frightened and insisted 
that I should get cairiers to take me on a hammock to 
Batouri, where there was a European doctor. I readily 
agreed to this, but before the hammock was ready I felt 
too ill even to move. In any case it would have taken 
weeks for me to get to a doctor, or a doctor to me, if one 
could be found who was willing to take the journey. All 
I could think of was that I W'anted to die. At last, in 
desperation, I asked Atanaga to see if the village witch- 
doctor could help. 

He went off and returned a little later with a most 
revolting-looking brew made, he announced, “of leaves 
and herbs”, and somewhat resembling half-cooked por- 
ridge. I was to drink it all, the witch-doctor said. With a 
tremendous effort I managed to swallow about an eighth 
of the thick, sticky mess, and half an hour later it worked. 
As Atanaga rightly said, “Massa go drink dis an’ nothing 
go le£' for you’ belly.” Nothing was left in my belly; not 
even, I believed, the things that should have been there, 
I vomited like a sea-sick elephant off and on for the rest 
of the day, and at the end of it I felt as though I had been 
gutted. It was a surprise to realise that my heart, liver 
and intestines were intact. But I slept that night for the 
first time in days, and next morning I felt better. By the 
end of the week I was as right as rain, but I never did find 
out what the brew was made of. “Leaves and herbs” was 
all the witch-doctor would say. What I did find out was 
that Atanaga had been responsible for my illness in the 
first place. He had got himself involved in some “woman 
palaver” and poison delivered surreptitiously by the 
offended husband had somehow found its way into my 
food instead of his. 


217 



Altogether I stayed in the Mendjim Mey for over three 
years, to the mutual benefit of myself, the Mendjims, 
science and, incidentally the Government, who were 
delighted to find that at last the Mendjims could pay 
their taxes. Even the women profited, for with my own 
men, and with carriers coming and going, much more 
food was needed, and they increased their plantations to 
sell us vegetables. It was not always easy to deal with 
these wild, independent tribesmen, who were in turn 
wise and childish, savage and gentle. But I had only to 
threaten to leave them to have them falling over them- 
selves to please me. Early in my stay with them they 
noticed and applauded the simple justice I used to settle 
disputes among my men, and soon they were bringing 
their own problems for my judgment. The African loves 
justice and gets as much satisfaction and delight out of 
wise jurisdiction as a Briton gets out of a Cup-tie Final. 
They came to me so often for this purpose that I had to 
set aside Sunday mornings for my casual and quite un- 
authorised courts. Later I discovered that many of the 
disputes they brought to me had already been settled, 
sometimes months, sometimes even years before, but 
they dearly wanted to know whether my judgment tallied 
with theirs. 

But I was growing tired. One day I realised that I had 
not been out of West Africa for twenty years — a record 
for any European in that part of the world — and I decided 
that a few months in England would do me no harm. I 
came out of the Mendjim Mey, settled up my affairs in 
Batouri and Yaounde, and a month later sailed for home. 


318 



CHAPTER X 


SHOOTMAN’S WOMAN 

At the time, I could not understand why I should be 
thought crazy for taking a young wife back with me into 
the bush, but my friends in the Cameroons told us 
bluntly that we were both out of our minds. Life in the 
remote forests of West Africa is certainly full of danger. 
There are venomous snakes, scorpions and centipedes; 
leopards, gorillas and savage wild pigs; sudden violent 
storms and floods, malaria, sleeping-sickness and count- 
less other hideous diseases, some of them still unnamed. 
There is the constant menace of insect life, tvith swarms 
of lively parasites, termites that secretly honeycomb the 
timbers of a house, and driver ants that have been 
known to overwhelm and devour a sick and helpless 
man. 

We were to live five days’ march from the nearest 
European and a good deal further from any doctor. Our 
medical supplies were limited to quinine, iodine and 
aspirins. Somehow we came through it all unscathed, 
but it was not until years later that I realised how foolish 
I had been to take an English girl, fresh from a London 
suburb, to live under these conditions with a primitive 
tribe who were almost certainly cannibals. It did not 
strike me then because I was as familiar with the dangers 
of the forest as a Londoner is with those of Piccadilly 
traffic, and, I suppose, equally indifferent to them. As 
for my wife, her faith in me overwhelmed any misgivings 

319 



she might have had. I cannot overcome my astonishment 
that she should have taken all these things in her stride 
and accepted so much without a murmur. 

Hilda and I met and married during the short holiday 
I took in England, and our honeymoon was spent on the 
voyage back to Africa. We landed at Douala and went by 
train to Yaounde (a journey of 191 miles, taking about 
twelve hours) where the European population was agog 
to see the woman who was willing to share my reckless, 
wandering life. But it was their warm friendship and not 
their curiosity that found expression in the hectic round 
of dinners and parties to which we were invited, while 
preparations v^ere made for our journey to the Mendjim 
Mey, where we were to make our home. For this 1 
planned a roundabout route so that Hilda could see 
something of the country and I could visit Maton, the 
French coffee-planter near Batouri who was one of my 
oldest friends and to whom I sent all my specimens from 
the forest for dispatch abroad. 

Atanaga turned up as soon as he heard of our arrival, 
and we sent him off to Maton’s with the bulk of the 
luggage. For this journey, 300 miles further into the 
interior, we were offered a lift by two young planters 
who were travelling up to Batouri in an ancient Ford 
saloon. We had arranged to leave Yaounde early in the 
morning, expecting to arrive at Maton’s before dark, but 
in Africa white people soon adopt the native indifference 
to the clock, and my two friends did not turn up until 
1 p.m. This meant that we would not reach Maton’s 
until very late, even if the old car did not let us down. 
I did not much like the look of it, but our lively com- 
panions were so full of confidence that I agreed to 
carry on. 


220 



For a while all went well. Sitting with Hilda in the 
back of the car I was fully occupied in anstvering all 
her eager questions about the country we were passing 
through. At Ayos, on the bank of the Nyong river, we 
came to a Government hospital devoted to research into 
trypanosomiasis, the dreaded sleeping-sickness carried by 
flies, fleas, bugs and leeches, which is one of the most 
debilitating and fatal diseases of tropical Africa. During 
the 1914-18 war, when this was German territory, British 
prisoners-of-war were interned in the hospital. Now, 
groups of native patients were sitting about outside, most 
of them with large white numbers painted on their dark 
skins to record their identity and details of their treat- 
ment. This is a common practice in VFest Africa; it saves 
the hard-pressed doctors a good deal of paper work and 
ensures that no mistakes are made. 

A district particularly rife with sleeping-sickness had 
been chosen for the site of the hospital, for on the other 
side of the river was an extensive swamp where parasites 
carrying the disease bred in countless millions. Because 
of the swamp the continuation of the road we had come 
along was nearly two miles down-stream. The ferry was a 
primitive affair, consisting of three dug-out canoes which 
were connected by stout beams supporting a wooden 
platform. There were twelve native paddlcrs, chosen 
from the local population for their splendid strength and 
physique. Three of us got out of the car while our driver 
urged it cautiously up a crazy ramp of loose planks on to 
the ferry, which thereupon curtsied deeply to its heavy 
guest and shipped several gallons of muddy water. We 
climbed on after it and sat down on the running-board 
of the car, while the paddlers, waist-deep in water, pushed 
us off and then jumped into their position two at either 


SSI 



end of each canoe. Twenty yards from the bank the 
swirling current caught us and set us spinning off down 
the river, while the paddlers dug furiously at the water 
with little apparent effect. 

At this point the river was a mile wide, broken by 
reeking mud-banks and scores of tiny islands covered with 
brilliant green vegetation. Whenever we approached an 
island the paddlers made a supreme effort to get into the 
quiet water behind it, and thus, in fits and starts, we 
edged across. Eventually we reached a point about two 
hundred yards up-stream of our landing point, but be- 
tween us and the bank was a deep channel where the 
water raced along with tremendous force, and in this 
the ferry spun and dipped until we began to get dizzy. 
To our dismay we were swept past the landing point, 
but before we had got far the paddlers, dripping with 
sweat and spray, had us out of the main stream. Keeping 
close to the bank they paddled us back against the milder 
current until at last we grounded. The men were out 
instantly into the water pulling the ferry squarely on to 
the mud, and ten minutes later the ramp was again in 
position and the car safely ashore. The crossing had 
taken us nearly an hour. 

The road on this side of the river was deep in liquid 
mud. Our driver drove at top speed, partly because he 
enjoyed it but also so that there might be less risk of 
getting bogged down. This was wise no doubt, but sap- 
lings and branches had been laid crossways to bridge the 
M'orst patches of the road, and when we hit them at forty 
miles an hour we all rose involuntarily and violently a 
good two feet into the air. The country became moun- 
tainous with long stretches of dense forest, broken at 
intervals by native villages and their adjoining fields, 


222 



where the women worked amongst maize, banana and 
yam plantations. 

Before we had gone far we noticed that the outer 
cover of one of the tyres had developed an alarming 
bulge. We stopped and put the spare wheel in its place, 
but this looked even less secure than the other. Darkne.ss 
was falling when, with a report that shook the country- 
side, it capitulated and pitched us all into the roadside 
bush. We got an old hurricane lantern out of the car 
and by its dim smoky light inspected the damage. Fortun- 
ately, only our dignity was hurt, but there tvere no more 
spare wheels. A passing native took word of our plight to 
the next village, and shortly afterwards the headman 
arrived tvith a crowd of his young men, all of them 
delighted with this little break in their routine. With 
their help we soon had the car back on the road, but it 
was an hour before we had the cover off, the puncture 
sealed, and everything coaxed, squashed, screwed and 
cursed back into place again. Meanwhile Hilda bravely 
sat through her first lesson in tropical torment, with the 
heat, flies, ants and mosquitoes as her eager tutors. 
Solemn, finger-sucking children and mangy dogs stood 
staring curiously at us from the shadows. 

After a hurried supper out of a picnic basket, we once 
more started on our way, but at a considerably reduced 
speed. The road was so narrow that our wheels brushed 
the undergrowth on each side and our headlamps were 
capable of only a dim yellow glow. Moreover, we had no 
wish to meet the elephants that might be roaming this 
part of the forest. The old car could never have been 
reversed fast enough if we were charged. It was nearly 
midnight when we reached the village of Abong Mbang, 
with still 150 miles to go, and we decided to stay there 


223 



until next morning. I knocked up a native trader I knew 
and he sleepily gave me the key to a small, vacant house 
he owned close by, where wc prepared to make ourselves 
comfortable for the night. 

This proved to be difficult. The house had not been 
used for months and there were several gaps in the roof, 
tvhere long-forgotten storms had stripped the palm-leaf 
thatch. Windows, walls and furniture were thick with 
dust and cobwebs, and the house would have made a 
happy hunting ground for an entomologist. The only 
hunting that took place that night, however, was con- 
ducted entirely by the other side. We had no bedding or 
mosquito nets, and as we lay down on the hard, native- 
style bamboo beds we were too tired to think of the legions 
of sandflies and mosquitoes that were even then buzzing 
e.xcitcdly in anticipation of the feast. When we got up 
before dawn next morning the four of us were a dreadful 
sight, covered from head to foot with spots and blotches, 
marking the sites of their orgies. 

Hilda suffered worst, for her skin was more sensitive 
than ours, but it was she who came to the rescue with an 
enormous bottle of eau-de-Cologne, which helped to 
relieve the irritation. She had also made the interesting 
zoological discovery that cockroaches have a taste for 
artificial silk. This had hitherto escaped my attention, 
since none of my garments were of that material, but 
during the night Hilda’s celanese underwear, folded up 
neatly on a chair, had been reduced to shreds. Cock- 
roaches almost three inches long are common in the 
tropics; their appetites and digestions are prodigious. 

Our troubles were not yet over. We had not counted 
on so protracted a journey and we had finished the con- 
tents of our picnic basket and thermos flasks the day 





before. We had nothing to drink and no vessels suitable 
for boiling water from the local streams. Our companions 
went hungry and thirsty. Hilda and I shared a tin of 
Ideal Milk, which we drank neat, and we still remember 
the awful sickly sweetness of it. But our only thought 
then was to get to Maton’s as speedily as we could. Our 
hunger made travelling even more uncomfortable than 
it had been on the previous day, and the only pause in 
the journey was to stop and stare for a moment at the old 
German fortress of Doume, a grim brick-built structure 
where the Germans for so long defied the British and 
French forces during the war. We reached Batouri shortly 
before noon and went straight to Maton’s. 

His plantation consisted of about three hundred well- 
kept acres of coffee, pineapples, bananas and groundnuts, 
and where the land bordered on the pretty Kadai river 
he had built his house. This was an oblong structure 
containing his own large bedroom, a fine cool sitting- 
room and a spare guest-room which was almost always 
occupied, for Maton was one of the most popular men 
in the French Cameroons, and no one passed through 
Batouri without spending a few days with him. Con- 
nected to the house by a short covered walk was a 
secondary building, where he kept his girls, his kitchen, 
his Stores and his pet pigs, the first and last occupying 
rooms at the opposite extremities. There were several 
outbuildings, including a tiny thatched bungalow where 
Hilda and 1 were to stay, and here were extensive well- 
kept gardens, where rose.s, hibiscus, lilies and a great 
variety of shrubs flourished throughout the year. 

Maton was a short, lively man, with a dark, close- 
cropped moustache and laughing brown eyes. He was 
untidy in his person, and was seldom seen wearing 
ocp/991— H 335 



anything more impressive than a grubby singlet and 
crumpled khaki pants. He was waiting on the verandah 
to greet us, and he welcomed Hilda with a characteristic 
charm and courtesy that went at once to her heart. In 
spite of his weaknesses, he and Hilda later became firm 
friends. 

Standing behind him in the shadows was his native 
woman lyendi, one of the most remarkable women I 
have ever known. Maton bought her from her father 
when she was about fourteen and took her to live with 
him. Few French bachelors — and they were nearly all 
bachelors out there — ^were without their native women, 
and they made no secret of it. The same thing happened 
across the border in the British Cameroons, but the 
British have consciences, and they did their best to 
conceal it from one another. lyendi bore Maton several 
children, all of whom he worshipped. He sent the eldest 
boy to be educated in France, and before he died of 
sleeping-sickness, a few years later, he had seen to it 
that they were well provided for. lyendi grew old prema- 
turely, as all African women do, and she was, moreover, 
excessively ugly. She wore brightly-coloured cotton 
dresses and a silk scarf over her head, and she was always 
spotlessly clean. 

She was devoted to Maton, and he thought the world 
of her. Until the 1920’s he had traded in rubber. Then 
the market collapsed, along with a good many other 
things in those bleak, hopeless days, and in common with 
most traders he found himself bankrupt almost over- 
night. In one way or another most of them succumbed to 
this blow. A few shot themselves, some took to drink and 
many drifted back to France or to other territories and 
other occupations. At first Maton went to pieces, but 

2s6 



lyendi was able to accept their downfall as just another 
of those natural calamities which go to make up life for 
the African, and in particular for the African woman. 
She was an ignorant, illiterate tribeswoman, but she 
remained superbly faithful to Maton. She nursed him 
when he was drunk or sick, she encouraged him w'hen he 
had reached the depths of despair, and out of her simple 
wisdom she was able to show him how to save himself. 

Starting again from scratch on a totally undeveloped 
concession of land, they toiled together half naked in the 
sun, clearing the bush and planting a few score coffee 
trees, which lyendi rightly judged to be a profitable 
crop, while they fed themselves on whatever fruit and 
vegetables they could spare the time to grow. At lyenda’s 
suggestion they planted ground-nuts too, and I believe 
she was the first woman to introduce them to that part of 
Africa. Slowly they fought their way back to prosperity, 
lyendi taking most of the management of the estate and 
its growing labour force into her own capable hands, 
while Maton attended to the business side, 

A wife of Maton’s own race might have done as much, 
but lyendi’s devotion to her master went beyond the 
comprehension of any European woman. She calmly 
bowed to the fact that her haggard, wrinkled old body 
was no longer capable of giving him pleasure, so she set 
about finding him the comeliest girls of the district, and 
saw to it that they pleased him. In the day-time she kept 
them busy about the house and the garden, and fiercely 
watched over their chastity. At the time of our visit 
Maton had six of these girls, none of them more than 
eighteen. I had warned Hilda what to expect, and conse- 
quently she showed no surprise when dinner was served 
that evening by a smiling, happy little group of native 

s«7 



girls, whose only concession to modesty was a diminutive 
bunch of leaves fore and aft, and whose full young breasts 
swung gaily over the dishes they placed before us. 

After dinner lyendi took Hilda aside and began to talk 
about African women and her own people, the Kakas, in 
particular. She had noticed that European women could 
not carry things on their heads, and she insisted on 
demonstrating her own ability to do so, carrying in turn 
a pineapple, a bottle of Maton’s beer, and finally an aged 
umbrella, while she trotted nimbly up and down. Then 
she called over one of the youngest girls and showed Hilda 
a most peculiar custom which is, so far as I know, con- 
fined to women of the Kaka tribe. The girl produced 
from her mouth half a dozen small stones, weighing 
about two ounces altogether. All Kaka women carry such 
stones under their tongues, even when they are eating 
or asleep, though I cannot imagine why they are never 
accidentally swallowed. 

The stones are usually small pieces of quartz and are 
called Tclembe by the Kaka people. Girls begin carrying 
them when they reach the age of seven and they are 
sometimes exchanged as a sign of friendship. The number 
varies considerably; I once found a girl who kept thirteen 
of them under her tongue. A dying Woman will distri- 
bute her stones among her daughters, so that they are 
handed down from generation to generation. Every girl 
knows her own Telembe stones, I have several times 
taken them from a dozen girls and mixed them up, but 
their owners were always able to identify them. They 
have no apparent function, and no one knows, least of 
all the Kakas themselves, how the custom originated or 
why it is maintained. Perhaps these little pieces of quartz 
once had some monetary value and the mouth was chosen 



as the safest repository, so that in an emergency they 
could be hastily swallowed and recovered at leisure next 
morning, an old trick of South African diamond thieves. 
Another theory concerns the migration of the Kakas from 
their original home far to the north, whence they were 
driven by slavers, along with other tribes. During their 
long trek over the deserts, water was too precious to waste 
on the women, who took to sucking stones to alleviate 
their thirst and who, for some reason, retained this habit 
after settling in the forests. Hilda was given a number of 
Telembe stones, which she still has in her possession. 

* * * 

There was excitement in store for us that night. I was 
pleased to find that Maton still had the three pet pigs 
that I had caught and sent to him during my last stay in 
the Mendjim Mey forest. They were red river hogs, a 
wild forest species, heavily built, with long, reddish- 
yellow hair and massive heads. Like most wild pigs they 
are savage, dangerous creatures, capable of disembowel- 
ling a roan with their long curved tusks, but they tame 
easily and make wonderful pets. My dogs found the first 
of them, a tiny piglet which had somehow become separ- 
ated from its dam and from the herd. When I rescued it 
from the dogs it responded by attacking me fiercely, 
butting at my ankles with its snub nose and trying to bite 
my toes, but since it was scarcely nine inches long the 
only effect of this was to amuse me. I picked it up and 
laughed aloud in its face. It squealed with fury at this 
insult and struggled violently, but when I had fed it the 
angry blaze in its tiny eyes softened — clearly I was not 
such a bad fellow after all. I had no wish to leave the 
piglet in the bush, where it would have provided a small 

329 



but tasty morsel for a passing leopard, so I took it back 
with me to Arteck, and decided to make a pet of it. 

This proved embarrassingly easy. Within a few days 
the pig would not leave me, trotting at my heels wherever 
I went. It was a male, and I named him Abock, the 
Mendjim Mey word for a local small red rat, which he 
closely resembled. I put up with his surfeit of affection 
for as long as I could, but since he insisted on following 
me into the bush when I went hunting and was conse- 
quently always in danger of being lost, I packed him off 
to Maton’s, asking if he could be looked after there. 

Abock was a resounding success at Batouri, especially 
with Maton’s children. They made a great fuss of him, 
supplied him with a blanket and a wicker-work basket, 
and took him to sleep with them in their bedroom. They 
had no difficulty in house-training him, and in this as in 
many other things he behaved exactly like a dog, even 
sitting up in a clumsy, hoggish way to beg for tid-bits 
from the table. Red river hogs are big animals, and 
Abock grew rapidly until he reached 180 pounds and 
stood twenty-six inches at the shoulder. Maton decided 
he was too big for the house, and henceforth he was 
banished to the adjoining stable, where he was living at 
the time Hilda and I arrived. Meanwhile I had caught 
two females of the same species, and these Abock took to 
his bosom with appreciative and affectionate grunts. The 
three of them were let out during the day and allowed 
the run of the plantation. They used to make a tour of 
the labourers’ quarters to for food, and often went as 
far as the village, two miles away, where there was always 
a welcome for them from the natives. Sharp at five-thirty 
every evening they reappeared, and the children brushed 
them down and searched them for ticks. Afterwards 



Abock gave the children rides on his broad back, but if 
too many got on he would suddenly shoot off like a rocket, 
spilling the laughing youngsters in piles of tangled, naked 
brown limbs as he went. European domestic pigs are 
difficult to raise in West Africa, and Maton had the idea 
of using Abock to produce a cross-breed which might 
have all the hardiness of the red river pig, together with 
the edible qualities of the European species, but he was 
never able to obtain a suitable female. 

After Hilda retired that night, Maton and I sat up 
into the small hours talking of old times and discussing 
plans for the future. About a.30 a.m. we were startled 
from our reverie by an unearthly rumpus in Abock’s 
stable. Maton grabbed his rifle and I a torch, and we 
rushed aaoss to see what was going on. The window of 
the stable had been carelessly left open by one of the 
labourers, and through this we beheld an astonishing 
scene. 

In the far corner of the stable, snarling and spitting, 
crouched a big male leopard. Holding him at bay was 
Abock, his sturdy buttocks quivering with rage, his red 
hair standing bolt upright, making him look enormous. 
In the opposite comer were the two sows, who were 
giving their lord and master much vocal encouragement. 
An instant after we had taken all this in, and before 
Maton could use his rifle, the leopard hurled itself at 
the hog, and the two animals roly-polied across the 
floor, ending up with a crash against the door and break- 
ing it open. The leopard had had enough and hared off 
into the darkness, holding his tail stiffly upright out of 
harm's way. Domestic animals of this calibre were clearly 
outside his experience of natural history. But Abock had 
not done with him yet, and when the leopard disappeared 

231 



from our sight, the pig was scarcely two feet behind him. 

There was nothing Maton and I could do to help the 
courageous pig, and in any case Abock looked perfectly 
capable of dealing with the situation himself. And so it 
proved. Half an hour later he came back, to be welcomed 
as a hero by his ladies and with little snorts of admiration 
and loving nuzzles. He was still trembling all over and 
was covered with blood, most of it apparently not his 
own. There was a good deal of leopard hair sticking to 
the blood around his nose. Abock’s own thick, coarse 
hair, we found, had saved him from severe lacerations, 
and although there was a deep wound down the side of 
his ugly head, he was not badly hurt. Although pigs are 
such heavily-built, clumsy-looking animals, they can 
move like lightning when they want to, as the leopard 
had found to his cost. Next morning Maton's men found 
its body among the coffee bushes and we went to examine 
it. The nose had been ripped off, completely and the 
intestines protruded from a long gash which Abock’s 
powerful tusks had ripped down the side. The skin was 
too badly damaged to be of any value, but Maton gave 
me the skull, which is now in the Powell-Cotton museum 
at Birchington, Kent. 

* * ♦ 

We could have wished for nothing better than to relax 
for a few days on Maton’s lovely estate, where the coffee 
trees, in full bloom and redolence, looked as though they 
had been sprinkled with snow. But there was no time 
for idling. Our final destination was Arteck, deep in the 
virgin jungle, and we were prepared for an indefinite 
stay. Accordingly our baggage was of considerable pro- 
portions. There were camp-beds, mattresses, crockery, 

as? 



kitchen utensils and large supplies of foodstuffs such as 
tea, coffee, flour, salt and canned food. In addition there 
was all the paraphernalia of the hunter and collector: 
rifles and cases of cartridges; killing-bottles for insects 
and large bottles of preservatives for embryos, the latter 
carefully packed for me by experts at the University 
College in London. Skinning knives, machetes for cut- 
ting through dense undergrowth, formalin and alcohol 
were other important items. Lastly there was a heavy 
wooden case full of five- and ten-centime pieces, to pay 
my carriers and to purchase specimens. These small 
denomination coins had holes through their centres, and 
the natives wore them on strings round the neck or waist. 
Paper money was useless: it would have been destroyed 
in no time by the damp or by insects. We were to travel 
for days through difficult country where there were no 
roads and where the only form of transport was by native 
carriers. All our goods had therefore to be broken down 
into 50-pound packs, the accepted load for a carrier, and 
when the task was eventually completed we found that 
we would require forty men, as well as our cook, gun- 
bearers and other servants. 

Finding suitable combinations of these articles of a 
convenient shape to carry, and within the weight limit, 
was not an easy task, and I was pleased to have the 
drudgery of it broken by a visit from an old and welcome 
friend. This was Besalla, the great hunter of the Mend- 
jim Mey, who had been at Bimba, on the fringe of 
Mendjim Mey territory, when he heard of our arrival. 
He at once sent the news across the forest to Arteck, 
voiced by the big village drums. By the same means, 
Oballa, chief of Arteck, had sent a message back to me, 
which Besalla had come to deliver. 

i!33 


ocp/ggi — 



Besalla welcomed me warmly. Oballa and the men of 
his “town”, he said, were overjoyed to hear of my return 
and they had already started to build me a house. They 
had heard that I was bringing my wife with me and that 
she was also going to stay with them at Arteck. 

“Massa, 1 glad for look you too much! All man for 
town be glad you go come back. We done build you fine 
fine house. All man here say you done bring missus what 
go sit down for we town. We glad too much for dis. All 
woman go make big dance for missus.” 

I laughed and clasped him about his broad bare 
shoulders, telling him how pleased I was to be back. 
Then, still laughing, we turned and faced Hilda. 

‘‘Is ... is this Besalla?” she asked nervously. 

“It is indeed I And a fine fellow you'll find him." 

“Yes, Fred, so you’ve told me. But what has he done 
to his teeth?” 

“His teeth?” 

“Why are they filed to points like that?” 

This was something I had certainly forgotten to men- 
tion before. All men of the Mendjim Mey filed their 
teeth, and Hilda knew weU enough from her reading 
that this was a cannibal custom. In the old days the 
Mendjim Mey were continually at war with their neigh- 
bours, the Kakas and the Makas. When prisoners were 
taken, the young girls were kept as wives, and the others 
— old women, men and boys — were killed either by 
decapitation or cutting their throats, and then cooked 
and eaten. According to Besalla, cannibalism had been 
dropped many years before, and the Mendjim Mey ate 
gorilla and chimpanzee meat as the nearest substitute. 
That was why they still filed their teeth: human and 
anthropoid flesh is said to stick to the bones and can be 

234 



more easily removed with pointed teeth. A few years 
before I became familiar with the tribe, one of their 
chiefs had been hung for eating a small girl, but that 
was the only recent evidence of cannibalism I ever 
found among them. There was, however, one sinister fact 
which Hilda herself was to notice during the coming 
months. Wherever else we travelled in the Cameroons 
there were always many wrinkled, grey-haired old people 
to be seen squatting about the villages, but in the Mend- 
jim Mey we seldom saw a man or woman past their 
prime. We suspected that when they were too old to 
hunt or work they were taken quietly off into the bush, 
slaughtered and eaten. Hilda once asked N’Dimo, our 
houseboy in Arteck, why there were so few old people to 
be seen, and his reaction seemed to be significant. He 
blushed furiously (even the blackest African can blush) 
and dashed off without a word. 

Poor Hilda I There were so many things I had taken 
for granted and never bothered to tell her about before 
we left England. She had to discover for herself what it 
was like to live in the forest with only a shaky contact 
with civilisation. Only the excitement of it had seemed 
important to me : the thrill of hunting, the fascination 
of the animals and of strange native customs, the wonder 
of seeing new lands and finding rare specimens. It was 
my great fortune to have chosen a girl who quickly 
adapted herself to these conditions and who was able to 
share so fully my own enthusiasm for collecting and 
studying wild animals. 

Besalla also brought news that there were plenty of 
gorilla — N’gi he called them — in the forest around 
Arteck, and that one had actually been seen just behind 
our new house. 


^35 



“N’gi plenty too much for we country just now,” he 
explained. ‘‘Four day pass one live for back for you’ 
house.” 

Thus encouraged, and with Besalla's help, the busi- 
ness of packing was speeded up and we were soon ready 
to leave. The Mendjim Mey country lay almost due 
south of Maton’s, but the only track leading directly 
there was impassable to all but animals and an occasional 
tough native travelling fast and light. To take Hilda and 
forty carriers through that way was out of the question. 
Instead, we had to go back towards Yaounde, along the 
road we had already come, and then turn south at a large 
village called Beri to a narrow forest trail. More old 
friends of mine, including my gun-bearer Collonel and 
two expert skinning men of the Mendjim Mey turned up 
before we left. Maton brought out his decrepit old lorry 
and we all piled in on top of the baggage and were carted 
off to Beri. That was as far as Maton could take us, and 
after assuring himself that we would have no trouble 
getting carriers, he shook hands and drove off. He was 
the last white man we were to see for over six months. 

The chief of Beri lined up sixty of his young men 
from which I could make my choice. I picked out the 
sturdiest of them, and from these again I chose eight of 
the best as a team to carry Hilda’s tepoy, a bamboo 
hammock with a covered top in which she could be 
carried when she found the going too tough. Africans 
claim that they cannot live without women, and as usual 
the carriers insisted on bringing an adequate supply 
of them. Since the women could not leave their small 
children behind, they had to be brought too, and the 
company I lead out of Beri that morning was therefore 
of embarrassing proportions. The noise was unbeliev- 

336 



able. The villagers tacitly accepted the setting out of 
our expedition as a general holiday, and the entire 
population turned up to see us off. I placed myself at 
the head of the column, with Collonel, Besalla and Hilda 
immediately behind. Then came the long line of carriers, 
wearing only brief loin-cloths tied up tightly for the 
march, and balancing the heavy loads on their heads. 
Around them straggled the women, many with tiny naked 
babies on their broad hips, and all with calabashes, kero- 
sene tins and other essential household utensils they 
would need en route. There was the utmost confusion : 
everyone was talking and shouting excitedly, and when I 
gave the order to move off, the carriers started singing, 
the women hooted and patted their lips, as Red Indians 
do, and all around us the villagers were singing, clapping 
their hands and shouting farewells and good advice. 
Above this joyful rumpus rose the enthusiastic yapping 
of the dogs and the shrill bleating of frightened village 
goats. 

Our first stop was Ngalebot, a village about seventeen 
miles from fieri. Hilda and I found fairly comfortable 
accommodation for the night in a rest-house for European 
travellers. We were on the fringe of savannah country 
that stretched far to the north, and I decided to take her 
on a short hunting trip before turning south towards the 
Mendjim Mey. This would give me an opportunity for 
getting antelope for the museums and a supply of meat 
for the carriers. Like most Africans their diet was defici- 
ent in protein, and meat would keep them well and 
happy during the arduous days ahead. This was to be 
Hilda’s first hunting trip, and as it turned out it very 
nearly proved to be her last. 

We went as far as Nyassi, where we told the carriers. 

237 



to wait. Taking with us only Collonel and six skin-men, 
we crossed the Doume river in leaky, dug-out canoes and 
passed through a mile-wide belt of forest before reaching 
the savannah. Under a clear blue sky the grasslands 
stretched as far as the eye could see, broken only by tiny 
hills, perhaps thirty feet high, and the typical growth of 
stunted trees. A little way from the edge of the forest 
were two of these hills, each with a few small trees at 
its foot, and between them, browsing in the yellow grass 
as he went, strolled a fine male bush-buck, looking for all 
the world as though he owned the place. The animal was 
up-wind, moving away from us, and taking Collonel I 
began tracking it, leaving the others where they were. 

When we had got as far as the second hill I glanced 
back over my shoulder and was astonished to see Hilda 
and the skin-men waving frantically at me. I was so 
intent on my quarry that for a minute or two my only 
reaction was anger that they should risk alarming the 
creature, and I moved forward several yards before it 
struck me that they were trying to draw my attention to 
something else. Looking round again I saw what they 
were pointing at. 

Behind me, between the two hills, were seven buffalo, 
which had come up silently and were stalking me just as 
I was stalking the antelope. It has been well and often 
said that buffalo are the most dangerous of Africa’s big 
game. They are mean, vicious, quick to attack and in- 
credibly cunning and persistent in following up a victim. 
The herd was stamping their feet and tossing their great 
heads, working themselves up for a charge. Collonel and 
I did a sprint for the nearest cover — a clump of bushes 
at the foot of the nearest hill — and our sudden move- 
ment triggered off the charge. Two bulls and a big cow 

338 



detached themselves from the herd and came thundering 
towards us. I fired twice at the first bull. The animal 
sagged to its knees and slowly rolled over, its legs jerking 
in the air. The other two pulled up a few yards beyond it, 
looking back at their fallen comrade and tossing their 
heads uncertainly. Then they saw Hilda and charged off 
towards her. 

The skin-men instantly disappeared, in the miraculous 
way Africans have in such situations. Some of them 
dropped flat in the longest grass and the others crouched 
behind whatever bushes they could find. Hilda was 
utterly bewildered; to her, running or hiding seemed 
equally futile — as indeed they were — and while she 
hesitated the buffalo were almost upon her. When I 
squinted along the barrel of my Mannlicher and saw my 
wife and the buffalo in the same line of sight, I was so 
gripped with sheer cold fear that I gasped out loud. I 
fired three times in rapid succession. The first two bullets 
struck the leading animal deep in the forequarters, 
smashing that side of the shoulder girdle. It collapsed 
on to its chest, but its momentum sent it skidding along 
the ground, ploughing a deep furrow in the earth with 
its horns, and it came to a standstill barely ten paces 
from my wife. The third shot tore a long red gash along 
the flank of the other buffalo, which bucked wildly with 
pain and went careering off safely towards the right. The 
rest of the herd decided they had had enough and 
stampeded back the way they had come. 

The buffalo that had so nearly killed my wife was still 
twitching and I ran up and dispatched it. Hilda was 
white-faced and trembling, but the boys, who could think 
of nothing but meat, were delighted. 

“We shootman Massa done get fine fine woman,” 

*39 



roared Collonel, dancing round the buffalo. “Missus 
done bring we plenty good luck. We go get plenty beef 
for we country.” 

I gave “shootinan’s woman” a hug. We had had quite 
enough hunting for one day, and leaving Collonel and 
the skin-men in charge of the carcases we returned to 
Nyassi. I sent more men to help Collonel and before 
evening they were back with the flesh and skins. Most 
of the meat was at once cut up, smoked over small fires 
heaped with damp green leaves, and carefully stored 
away to be eaten on the journey. There was sufficient left 
over for the carriers and their women to feast themselves 
that night. 

Next morning we were up before the sun, and with the 
cold damp mist rising to our waists, we turned south 
once more towards the Mendjim Mey. 



CHAPTER XI 


JUNGLE HOUSE-KEEPER 

Carriers on the march are always singing improvised 
songs to keep up their spirits and to ease their loads. The 
lead may be taken by anyone to whom a suitable idea 
has occurred, and the others join in with a chorus which 
is modified in tone and volume to underline the mood 
and meaning of the soloist. The nature of the safari, its 
purpose and hoped for results, the people in it, their 
complaints and anxieties are common subjects for these 
cheerful calypsos. My own men were happy to have me 
back and proud to be carrying “shootman’s woman”, 
and they expressed their happiness in song. 

“Yea, yea, yea, yea. Company soyar, company soyar 
(our company is coming). Company na English Massa, 
company soyar.” 

And then, from somewhere down the line, a solo 
voice: 

“Massa get some fine fine woman.” 

Chorus: “Company soyar.” 

“He go get some fine fine pickin.” 

“Yea, yea, yea, yea. Company soyar.” 

“What side we go take dem Missus?” 

“Company soyar.” 

“We go take him far for bush.” 

“Company soyar. Yea, yea, yea, yea. Company soyar.” 

“Massa go kill plenty beef.” 

“Yea, yea, yea, yea. Company soyar.” 

541 



And with pointed emphasis: “Massa go pay we plenty 
money.” 

“Company soyar. Yea, yea, yea, yea. Company soyar.” 

There was praise for the now celebrated Little Chief 
Mendjoum: “Mendjoum he be plopper kingl ” 

"Yea, yea, yea, yea. Company soyar.” 

“He give all man plenty chop!” 

“Company soyar.” 

As usual poor old Wo-Wo Foot came in for some good- 
natured mockery from the safari wag, and the chorus was 
drowned in laughter : 

“Wo-Wo Foot walka quick too much! ” 

“Yea, yea, yea, yea. Company soyar.” 

Towards evening, when they grew tired, there were 
more hints directed at me. 

“All we people stand (start) for tire.” 

"Company soyar.” 

“Massa savvy walk too much.” 

“Company soyar.” 

“Massa cargo heb (heavy) too much.” 

“Company soyar. Yea, yea, yea, yea. Company soyar. 
Company na English massa. Company soyar.” 

No one was happier than Atanaga, who had bought a 
new and very sophisticated young wife called Eli — short 
for Elizabeth — out of the proceeds of our last trip. Both 
of them were dressed up to the nines, Atanaga in a trilby 
hat, long khaki pants and singlet, and Eli in a pink silk 
dress. Both wore white shoes which gripped their broad 
flat feet so tightly that they limped with pain. With 
these unsuitable but immaculate garments they assumed 
an air of infinite superiority over the naked villagers, but 
they soon found that a muddy jungle track is no place 
for new clothes, and in order to preserve them without 

S42 



losing their sartorial dignity they dressed just before we 
reached the villages, and stripped again as soon as we had 
gone beyond. In the forest the clothes were carried on 
their heads, with the white shoes on top. 

Sometimes Hilda walked, but when she grew tired or 
found the jungle too much for her, she rode in her tepoy. 
Once I plucked a wild white lily from the side of the 
track and gave it to her, for I knew she loved flowers. 
Her pleasure was instantly perceived by the carriers, and 
every day afterwards they brought her sprays of orchids, 
hibiscus and Flame of the Forest to decorate the tepoy. I 
can never speak too highly of the courtesy and kindness 
shown by all these simple people towards my wife, par- 
ticularly during the very arduous journey. It was true 
that the track to the Mendjim Mey had grown easier 
since I first went there, for it had been much used and 
improved by carriers bringing out my animals. Most of 
the rivers were bridged, but timber rots rapidly in that 
climate and the bridges were already falling to pieces. In 
any case many of the bridges were simply tree-trunks 
felled across the streams, slippery and wet. Hilda had no 
choice but to walk across them, with the raging water lap- 
ping at her feet, but there were always a dozen or so pairs 
of strong black hands, scrupulously gentle and respectful, 
ready to help and support her. The simpler the people, 
the greater their courtesy. During our long stay at Arteck 
I often left Hilda alone for days on end, while I went off 
on hunting trips, and never once during my absence did 
she feel the least sense of insecurity. Oballa used to set 
two or three of his spear-men to guard her night and day, 
and if she wanted to take a stroll in the forest they were 
always with her to see that she did not get lost, to help her 
over obstacles, guard her from wild beasts and point out 

H3 



dangers that were hidden from her untutored eyes. 

At first the villagers w'ere overwhelmed with curiosity 
about Hilda, for after we passed Meyoss we entered terri- 
tory where no white woman had been seen before. .She 
was closely examined by all the village women, who 
touched and pointed in wonder at her clothes. Everyone 
wanted to shalce hands with her and she suffered all this 
most cheerfully and with the greatest goodwill. I often 
had to ask her to get out of the tepoy so that she could be 
looked at. The occasional cases of suffering and disease 
appalled her, of course, particularly that of a little boy 
whose feet were a festering mess, half eaten away by 
jiggers and covered with “country medicine” in the form 
of mashed leaves. The boy’s mother only laughed when 
Hilda recoiled in horror at the sight. Most of the babies 
had strings tied tightly round their thighs and wrists, 
biting into the flesh and causing them great pain, and 
Hilda set to work cutting them off when I told her that 
the women put them there to see whether the babies 
were growing. 

Resting in the evenings-, we played the gramophone 
Hilda had brought with her, and to the villagers this was 
sheer magic. They crowded the doorways of our hut 
listening for hours in dead silence. When we wanted to 
stop they clamoured for more. This sometimes went on 
far into the night, until we had to tell them that the music 
was tired and at last they went off to their beds. 

The Paramount Chief of the Mendjim Mey greeted us 
with gifts of a duck, a fowl and some vegetables, and he 
painted a glowing picture of our new house at Arteck, 
which, he said, had' been built “through his mouth”, 
that is to say, by his command. Every chief en route made 
the same claim, except for the Little Chief Mendjoum, 

244 



who was much too excited and anxious to clown to bother 
with false claims on us. He had a baby son a few months 
old whom he had called Merfield in tribute to me, and 
when later he had a daughter he called her “Madame”, 
which was the title by which Hilda came to be known 
among the Mendjims. Atanaga’s wife Eli was called 
“Small Madame” because she tvore clothes and was always 
giving herself airs. Africans have a nice sense of humour. 

With such a large and noisy safari we saw^ no game, 
but there were plenty of monkeys and birds about and I 
was able to show Hilda some elephant spoor, including 
one foot-print that measured twenty-one inches across. 
The villagers had many kinds of live animals which we 
bought as we went along — ^wide-eyed bush-babies and 
pottos, baby mangabey and putty-nosed monkeys, and 
many insects and birds. Insects became Hilda’s depart- 
ment and took up a substantial part of our collecting 
activities. She spent much of her time at Arteck tender- 
ing along the forest paths in search of rare and gorgeous 
butterflies or iridescent beetles, and our evenings were 
spent identifying them with the aid of our many text- 
books. She soon learned the curious and disillusioning 
fact that butterflies, however lovely they are, prefer 
animal dung to flowers. The dung of animals like duiker 
and other antelopes is seldom seen on the forest paths, 
but leopard and civet cat dung is common and is always 
the best place to find butterflies. Newman, the famous 
butterfly man at Bexley, Kent, bought large numbers of 
our specimens. 

On our third morning’s march the weather was dull 
and overcast, plunging the forest into an unfriendly 
gloom. Towards evening the threatening storm broke 
with great rolls of thunder, and lightning illuminated the 

345 



forest with startling flashes of cold green light. Then 
came the rain, great sheets of water smashing at the leaves 
and sending us hurrying to the shelter of an outlying hut. 
The birds and animals of the jungle were silent, listen- 
ing to the fury of the storm from whatever shelter they 
could find. Even the mighty trees, bound and laced 
together with a tight network of vines and creepers, 
swayed at the impact of the first great gust of wind, and 
away behind the hut we heard one of them creak, splinter 
and come crashing to the ground, tearing a vast hole in 
the forest roof. As usual the storm ended abruptly and 
dramatically; birds that seemed brighter than before 
flew again among the dripping leaves, and half a mile 
away a family of chimpanzees set up a chorus of delighted 
screams as the sun broke through the rear-guard of 
the clouds. 

There were fewer villages as we approached Arteck, 
and for the most part of our last day’s march we saw no 
strangers. In fact I began to think that something was 
wrong. I expected to find at least a few of the Arteck 
people coming a long way out to meet us, for the drums 
were talking all the time and they must have known 
exactly where we were. The puzzle was solved when we 
reached a large forest clearing about a quarter of a mile 
from Arteck. One moment there was silence, save for the 
usual forest sounds, and there was nothing remarkable to 
be seen, then suddenly, with the most fearful screams, 
hundreds of naked Mendjims, gathered from all the 
surrounding villages, came bursting out at us from the 
undergrowth, waving their spears and dancing wildly 
around Hilda’s tepoy. Behind the warriors were their 
women, clapping, hooting and patting their lips, and 
beside them more men, singing, shouting and beating 

246 



furiously on portable drums. The noise was terrible, and 
grew ten times worse when our own carriers and their 
women joined in, yelling and singing as loud as they 
could. The savage dance round Hilda's tepoy must have 
terrified her, at least for a moment. A small moist hand 
crept into mine, and when I looked at her she was as 
white as a sheet. 

“Is it ... is it all right, Fred?” she asked in a tiny 
voice. 

"All right? Whatever do you mean?” 

“Well, I mean, are they pleased to see us, do you 
think?" 

“Pleased! They’re absolutely delighted. This is their 
way of welcoming us.” 

“Oh, thank heavens. For a moment I really thought 
they were going to . . .” 

But I lost the rest of what she said when Oballa stepped 
forward and warmly clasped my hand. After I had intro- 
duced him to a now more confident Hilda, all his men 
and their women fell in behind us and we made our 
triumphant entry into Arteck. An emperor could not 
have wished for more. 

« • • 

Our little house, proudly presented to us by the smiling 
villagers, was all we could have desired. It was situated 
on rising ground at the end of the village and had three 
rooms — a large sitting-room, a bedroom, a store-room and 
a verandah. 'The walls were of baked mud and the roof of 
dried palm fronds, all lovingly applied by willing hands. 
Later on we installed our furniture, fixed up some shelves 
and had a little bath-room built at the back. Another 
out-house served Atanaga for his kitchen and I turned my 

HI 



old house into a work-shop, which came to be known as 
my bureau. 

We wanted to rest, but kindly though the villagers 
were, they would have none of that. They sang, shouted, 
danced and beat their drums for hours, and only stopped 
when Hilda was inspired to set up in competition with 
her gramophone. This proved to be a double-edged 
weapon. The celebrations ended abruptly, but the whole 
village crowded round our house and though we played 
our little collection of records through and through they 
were not satisfied until well past midnight. 

The next evening, only an hour after we had gone to 
bed, Besalla came tapping on our door to say that there 
were gorillas about. We got up at once, went out on to 
the verandah and stood listening, shivering a little in the 
cold misty air, until, from the bush just behind the house, 
no more than fifty yards away, came the grunt of a young 
male gorilla and a rustling as he settled himself more com- 
fortably on his bed. He was answered immediately by two 
or three more gorillas from the far side of the village, 
and all round us the bush was full of little whispering 
noises as the creatures of the jungle went about their 
secret business. There, in the heart of the primeval forest, 
we felt that we had our fingers on the very pulse of life 
itself. 

* # • 

We were awakened in the morning by a loud noise 
outside the house. Besalla was standing by the door hold- 
ing a baby gorilla, which was bound hand and foot with 
creepers. It got one arm free, and gave Besalla a pinch 
that made him yelp and then tried to bite him. Village 
women were standing about laughing at the little thing. 
I got Collonel and N’Denge to make a temporary cage for 

348 



it, and later in the day, when it had recovered from the 
shock of capture, I was able to feed and examine it. 
Gorillas are not easy to sex on sight when very young. 
The male sexual organs are not visible as in other 
Primates, though when adult the size and general 
physique of the males are unmistakable. Adolescent and 
mature females, moreover, have a decided and almost 
humanly feminine appearance. Closer examination 
proved that Besalla’s capture was a male, and Hilda, who 
had never seen a gorilla before, christened him Tarzan. 

A week later he was joined by another baby male. 
Some of Besalla’s hunters, walking quietly through the 
forest, encountered a large gorilla family consisting of 
three males, several females and four or five youngsters. 
One of the babies had strayed from its mother and the 
hunters snatched it up. It began screeching and the 
adults immediately came to the rescue. In the mel6e that 
ensued one of the females was badly wounded, and the 
rest of the family made off, with the hunters in pursuit. 
The main family group escaped and when the hunters 
returned they found the Old Man trying to drag away 
the wounded female, which had since died. Gorillas 
never abandon their wounded until they are forced to do 
so, and I have often seen the Old Man trying to get a 
disabled member of his family away to safety. Besalla’s 
hunters were charged repeatedly, but for some reason 
they were not successful in their attempts to spear the 
Old Man. Eventually, seeing that he could not frighten 
them off, he gave up and went away. The dead gorilla was 
bound to a stretcher of saplings and brought back. The 
baby, securely bound, was handed over to Hilda. He 
proved much more docile and gentle than Tarzan and 
we called him Jeeves. 


249 



I made a huge enclosure for these two attractive young 
animals, and in a short time they were both hand tame. 
Every morning they came into the house to join us at 
breakfast, and the differences in their characters was most 
remarkable. Tarzan was always the boldest and most 
aggressive. He much preferred snatching things off the 
table than accepting what he was given, and unless his 
mouth and both hands were already occupied, he grabbed 
the food we gave poor Jeeves as well. 

In their enclosure they had large branches to swing 
about on and they seemed to be thoroughly happy there. 
Jeeves always came to me when I called him, but Tarzan 
was much more suspicious. If I handed him a banana he 
would snatch it, stuff it in his mouth and then walk 
away backwards, looking at me out of the corners of his 
eyes in a suspicious manner, as though he did not intend 
to be caught napping. 

One morning a hunter brought in a dead female chim- 
panzee, with a young baby clinging to her fur, still alive. 
We bought the baby at once and put it in with Tarzan 
and Jeeves. This time the youngster was a female. We 
called her Jane, and she was much more anxious to make 
friends with the gorillas than with us. She walked across 
on all fours to Jeeves and put up her finger to his mouth, 
which is the chimpanzee way of expressing trust and 
friendship. Then she tried to hug him, but Jeeves trotted 
off to the far corner and sat there hunched up giving her 
glances of dark disfavour. When I offered her some food 
Tarzan dashed forward like lightning and snatched it 
away. Jeeves always submitted to this sort of treatment 
and was content to eat what Tarzan dropped or dis- 
carded, but little Jane was of a different temperament. 
She promptly snatched it back again, and Tarzan was so 

350 



shaken with this unexpected reaction that he did not 
know what to do. 

It never seemed to occur to the gorillas to try and get 
out, but little Jane sat for hours fiddling away at the bolt 
on the door after she had seen me opening it. Eventually 
the three of them became great friends and were most 
unhappy if we ever tried to part them. When they came 
in for breakfast in the mornings Tarzan always went 
straight to Hilda, while Jeeves came to me and little Jane 
hugged Atanaga. They all learned to drink nicely from 
cups, and were fond of tinned milk, of which we had a 
fairly plentiful supply. There were always gorillas calling 
in the forest, and our two used to answer them with a sort 
of roaring snore. 

Most of my old pets had died or had been given away 
before I left for my holiday at home, but we soon acquired 
a new collection. Apart from the gorillas and the 
chimpanzee, we had a fox-terrier, two sooty mangabey 
monkeys, four goats, two tortoises, one blue starling — a 
really lovely bird — and an assortment of frogs. Among 
our most interesting invertebrate pets, if pets they may 
be called, were goliath beetles, more than four inches 
long, and several black rock scorpions. 

Once, when I was away hunting, Hilda added a very 
different sort of creature to our menagerie. She was sitting 
on the verandah, talking to Eli, when a man came forward 
carrying a large snake. It was about three feet long and 
very fat, the body tapering sharply into a short, pointed 
tail. The head was diamond-shaped, bearing two “horns” 
just above the nostrils, and the body was green with 
purple and yellow markings. The man was holding it by 
the tail and by the back of its neck, and when Hilda asked 
him what sort of a snake it was he grinned and replied: 

251 



“Suppose dis beef go chop man, he go die.” He was right; 
the snake was a deadly horned viper, and though he 
claimed to possess a charm over which ics poison could 
not prevail, the truth was that he was highly skilled in 
handling snakes and never got bitten. 

N’Denge and Collonel wisely put the viper in a deep 
pit which they dug behind the house, and it lived there 
for a long time. Two months after it arrived it gave birth 
to twenty-five living young, and this caused great excite- 
ment among the people of Arteck. Our villagers were 
astonished that the babies were exactly like their mother, 
for they believed that the viper is the mother of all other 
species of snakes. Weeds had grown up the side of the pit 
and during the night the parent snake, relieved of the 
burden of its young, had climbed up and disappeared. 
The little ones were trying to do the same, and a few of 
them had almost reached the top when I arrived. Like 
most poisonous snakes young horned vipers carry a lethal 
dose of poison from the time they are born, although they 
are only a few inches long, and the position was therefore 
alarming. After a frantic search we discovered their 
mother lying concealed behind a bush. She was picked 
up with a noose attached to the end of a long stick and 
replaced in the pit, which had meanwhile been cleared 
of the weeds. Some of the babies died a few days after 
birth, but the survivors flourished on a diet of tiny frogs 
and together with their mother they were eventually 
packed off to a zoo. 

The day after we arrived in Arteck I discharged the 
main body of carriers, keeping with me N’Denge, 
Collonel, Dinga, Wo-Wo Foot, N’Gombie, Atanaga and 
a young lad called N’Za, whom I had picked up at Batouri 
and was already proving to be an excellent skin-man. On 



the following Sunday morning when I got up, all these 
men were squatting outside the house, which was a sign 
that they wanted a palaver. 

“Morning,” I greeted them. "All work done finish? 
What kin’ palaver live?” 

They mumbled among themselves for a moment or 
two and then Collonel spoke up; 

“Massa, all man talk say dey want more money.” 

This demand surprised me, for my men were well paid 
— far better, for example, than plantation workers — and 
in addition my hunting brought them ample supplies of 
meat, most of which they sold very profitably. 

“You man get plenty money,” I said, “plenty pass all 
labourer man for coffee farm, what work for morning 
so-tee (until) night. An’ dey no get Enjock (elephant), 
N’gi (gorilla) and Wa (chimpanzee) beef for chop. What 
be dis palaver?" 

They conferred in low whispers and then Collonel 
spoke again : 

"Massa, we savvy you long long time. Dem time you 
come for dis country, long time pass, you no get plenty 
cargo. Jus’ now you be big man. You get plenty cargo, 
fine fine blankets, fine fine bed, fine fine t'ing for wash 
(this was a canvas bath belonging to Hilda), an’ you done 
buy fine fine woman. All man ’member say you fit pay 
dem more money.” 

So that was itl My fine fine woman, they thought, 
must have cost me a fortune, and therefore I must have 
been making far more money than they had supposed. 

“You people fool too much,” I told them. “Me, I no 
pay no one half copper for dis woman. I t'ief him (stole 
her).” 

At this they laughed and shook their heads, refusing to 
S5S 



believe that such women were to be had for nothing. I 
went on ; 

“How much time I fit tell you white man no do buy 
woman? Dem father been dash me (her father gave her 
to me).'' 

They laughed scornfully at this fantastic idea, and then 
N’Za the boy said: “Suppose he bin dash you, some time 
dem woman be no goodl ” 

I reached forward and boxed his ears; whereupon the 
rest of them rolled over roaring with laughter and the 
palaver came to an end. They never again mentioned 
the cost of my woman or their suspicion that if I really 
had got her for nothing there must have been something 
wrong with her. 

Oballa came along to ask if I would be kind enough to 
hold court that morning. I had hardly expected them to 
want Sunday morning court so soon after ray arrival, but 
I agreed, and so that Hilda would be able to understand 
the proceedings I asked Oballa to select only those cases 
in which all the parties concerned spoke pidgin. Presently 
all was ready. Hilda and I sat on chairs behind a table 
outside our house, while the villagers squatted on the 
■ground around us in a semicircle. Knowing from past 
experience that at least some of the cases would be 
brought forward just to see how I would deal with them, 
I began with my usual warning: 

“You people want me for judge you’ palaver. Make 
me I tell you, sometime one man lie for me, I go flog 
him plopper one. Make me I no spoil my time for 
/nothing.” 

An excited whispering broke out, interspersed with 
giggles which were countered by calls for silence, but for 
.■several minutes no one stepped forward. 

354 



“You ’member say I got all day for wait you?” I said 
at last. 

An elderly man rose and walked up to our table. 

“Massa,” he said, "I got bad palaver. One for my 
woman make jumba for one for you’ people.” 

“What does 'jumba’ mean?” asked Hilda in my ear. 

“He means that one of his wives has been sleeping 
with one of my men,” I explained. “Not bad, consider- 
ing we’ve only been here a few days.” 

“You savvy dem man?” I asked the plaintiflE. 

“Yas, Massa. He be dem man you call him N’Za.” 

I looked round for the young imp. He was standing at 
the back of the crowd, grinning broadly, but the grin 
vanished like magic when he caught my eye. 

“What side you’ woman?” I asked the man. 

"He be him,” he replied, pointing to a buxom young 
wench of about twenty. 

“You be woman for dis man?” I asked her. 

“What kin’ woman?” she demanded impudently. “He 
no do sleep (with) me 1 ” 

The crowd murmured its disapproval at such gross 
negligence. 

“For what (why)?” I asked. 

She giggled. "He no get strong,” she said coyly. 

Roars of laughter from the crowd. The change seemed 
odd, for though her husband was about forty, which is 
old for a Mendjim, he was perfectly healthy and looked 
anything but senile. 

“For what? He no be old old man.” 

“He foller udder woman, Massa,” said the girl. 

“How you fit talk so?” I demanded. “No be you been 
tell me jus’ now you’ man no get strong? Then how he 
fit foller udder woman?” 


«55 



This was just the sort of score that delighted the 
villagers. There was more laughter and cries of “Yah, 
yah, yah.” The girl could think of nothing to say. 

“Call dem man N’Za,” I said, and the crestfallen boy 
pushed his way to the fropt. 

“How you been make jumba for dis woman?” I asked 
him. 

“Massa, I no ’member for make jumba. Dem woman 
foller me for house. How I go do (what else could I do)?” 

I spoke to the girl again. “He be true how dis man 
talk?” 

“Dem man he lie; he bin call me,” she replied. 

“How you been go, suppose you no been want for 
make jumba?” Again she made no answer, but there 
was a lot of whispering among the villagers. 

I turned to the husband. “You hear how you’ woman 
talk,” I said. “He say you no do sleep for him plopper 
one. For what?” 

"Dem woman want me sleep for him too much,” he 
grumbled. “You 'member say man no do tire?" 

"How much woman you get?" 

"I get four woman and t’ree pickin. Man what fit 
born pickin no be strong?” 

Litigation was never very protracted in the Mendjim 
Mey, and now, having heard all sides of the dispute, I 
pronounced judgement. 

“N’Za, I no been tell you no for trouble woman for dis 
country? I go cut you one dollar for you’ book. Dem 
woman, I go tell Oballa for flog him five for arse.” 

And to the husband: “Better you sleep plopper one 
for you’ woman for night. An’ make me I no hear you 
do foller udder woman.” 

The three of them walked off, looking very sorry for 

«56 






themselves and there were loud cries of approval from 
the villagers. 

“Bring udder palaver,” I said when the noise had died 
down. 

Another villager stepped forward. “Massa,” he said, 
pointing to a man standing nearby, “dis man been marry 
my pickin. He be pass two year an’ he no been pay all 
dem money. Any day he do talk say he go pay me. Jus’ 
now I do tire.” 

“How much money left for pay?” 

“He lef two goats an’ one dog.” 

“Make me I look dem man. Ah, he be you! He be 
true you no been pay all dem money for you’ woman?” 

“All dis be plopper lie, Massa. Dis woman he father 
want for chop all my money. I done finish pay long long 
time.” 

"How much time?” 

“Oh, long long time palaver. I been take dem goat 
and give him for him hand! ” 

“What man been look you?” 

“He be long time palaver. I done forget.” 

“Man no fit forget dis,” I told him sternly. “No be law 
for dis country say: Man go get witness for look how 
he pay father for woman? (Cries of ‘Ah, ah’ from the 
crowd.) Me, I look you face, you be plopper lie man! ” 

Oballa now came to me and announced that this case 
had been brought before him many times, and that he 
had always given judgement for the father, yet the hus- 
band still refused to pay up. 

I glared at the wretched debtor: “Dem king say he 
done judge this palaver before, an’ jus’ now you do 
trouble me more. I tell you how I go do : Suppose you no 
go pay dem goat for two-day time, me, I go take you’ 
ocp/991— I 



woman and back him for father! An’ how me I look he 
get belly (since she is pregnant) you go loss all t’ingl ” 

Hardly an hour had passed before the man brought 
along the goats and the dog and handed them over to the 
girl’s father in front of Oballa. Meanwhile, several more 
cases had been brought before me and disposed of, and 
since by then certain savoury odours were emanating 
from Atanaga’s kitchen, we packed up for lunch. 

« « « 

“Fred,” said Hilda one morning, “You know those 
little baby dolls we were given as tvedding presents in 
Germany, the ones we keep on the shelf? Why are the 
villagers always staring through the door at them?” 

I really had no idea, but I had noticed this myself and I 
called over two or three of the men and questioned them. 
After a great deal of discussion it emerged that the dolls 
had fascinated them from the time we had arrived. They 
had seen me preserving the unborn babies of gorillas and 
chimpanzees and they imagined that the dolls were my 
own olfspxdng pickled in the same way 1 Nothing would 
convince them otherwise until I let them handle the dolls 
and feel the texture of the celluloid they were made of. 

Hilda was now well into her stride as a jungle house- 
keeper. Maton used to send us vegetables by carrier 
occasionally, but for the most part we grew our own. I 
had brought many kinds of seeds and I planted them 
myself, although Atanaga gravely assured me that they 
would gi'ow only if they were planted by women. I sup- 
pose this fiction helps to relieve the men of the burden 
of working the plantations. Atanaga was dumbfounded 
when our little garden produced cucumbers, tomatoes, 
lettuce, onions, ground-nuts, radishes and beans, all of 

258 



which grew prolifically. If you threw away an over-ripe 
tomato every seed of it would sprout in a few days. In 
the front of our house we had a pleasant flotver garden, 
including a rural arch with a creeper growing orer it. 
For meat we lived almost entirely on the jungle, and 
Hilda made some very pleasing culinary experiments 
with giant forest hog, red river pig (a frequent item on 
our menu), bay duiker, yellow-backed duiker, rvater 
chevrotain, crabs, crayfish, buffalo and even elephant. 
Often only the liver, kidneys, and a few other parts of 
these animals suited our tastes and digestions. Meat had 
to be cooked within a few hours of the animal’s death, for 
we had no way of keeping it fresh. 

Atanaga, of course, did most of the cooking, but cakes, 
pastries and puddings were beyond his porvers and Hilda 
spent much of her time teaching him. We had brought 
large supplies of flour with us, and these were periodic- 
ally replenished by carriers from Batouri, though we 
could never depend on their regularity. The first time 
Hilda showed Atanaga how to boil a pudding she tied it 
up in a clean cloth and left him watching it boil. Some 
time later he came running in shouting, “Madame come 
look dem pudding. He done move all him clothes.’’ 
When she went to see what was wrong she found that the 
cloth had loosened and fallen off. We made a lot of 
bacon out of the red river pigs and tvhen Hilda gave 
Atanaga instructions to cut away the rind, he cut out all 
the lean meat as well, a misunderstanding due, I think, 
to the fact that she did not understand pidgin very well 
at first. 

Naturally, correspondence with fr'iends and relatives 
at home meant a great deal to us both, and particularly 
to Hilda. Letters, newspapers, and magazines came to us 

359 



through Maton and were brought into the Mendjim 
Mey, together with food supplies, by a carrier we kept 
especially for the purpose. He was a young and athletic 
man who could do the journey, even with a heavy load, 
in under six days when he wanted to, but that was not 
often. Sometimes three or four weeks would pass by with 
no sign of him, and when at last he turned up he would 
be full of excuses involving sickness, domestic matters, 
natural calamities and anything else he could think of. 
We were always on the point of sacking him, but some- 
how, when he did eventually arrive with letters from 
home, we were so pleased that we forgot our grievance 
and let him off. 

During the twelve months we spent together in the 
Mendjim Mey we had only one European visitor — Father 
Wilhelm from the Roman Catholic Mission at Doume. 
A few years earlier the good Father had sent a native 
evangelist into the Mendjim Mey, and this man, using a 
village hut at Arteck as his church, had ineffectively 
begun the task of converting the Mendjims. In an 
attempt to overcome their indifference he gave them an 
awe-inspiring description of Father Wilhelm and warned 
them what to expect of his wrath when, one day, he 
would come to visit them. In the minds of the simple 
people of Arteck, the separate identities of Father 
Wilhelm and of the Almighty gradually got confused; 
fear of God was fear of Father Wilhelm, and his long- 
delayed arrival was awaited with great trepidation. 

Like so many of his calling. Father Wilhelm was 
indeed a remarkable man, and his visit was a startling 
episode in our life at Arteck. We knew he was on his 
way, but one evening, some time after dark, Hilda and 
I were sitting quietly on the verandah, staring sleepily 

s6o 



at the stars, when she suddenly sat up and said, “Fred, 
was that a bicycle bell 1 heard?” 

“A bicycle bell?” 

“Yes, And somebody singing. Listen.” 

Sure enough I caught the sound of a tinkling bell and 
someone singing lustily to the accompaniment of it. 

"Why, of course,” I told Hilda. “It must be Father 
Wilhelm, He always rides a bicycle.” 

“In the jungle?” asked Hilda incredulously. 

“Well, only where the paths are reasonably wide and 
even. He carries it over stream.s, across bridges and around 
fallen trees and that sort of thing, and he gets on again 
wherever the path permits. But I never really expected 
to find him coming here. Let’s go and see.” 

We walked down to where the path entered the forest 
and in the bright moonlight presently beheld a most 
astonishing sight. Careering round the bend came Father 
Wilhelm, wobbling violently as his cycle struck irregu- 
larities in the ground. Most of his face was hidden by a 
vast black beard and a shabby xvhite sun helmet xvas 
tipped over his eyes. His cassock was tucked up above his 
knees, so that it did not interfere with the pedals, and 
in his right hand he flourished a wicked-looking spear, 
while the other was engaged in steering the machine and 
incessantly ringing the bell. He was pedalling furiously 
and between his gasps for breath he bawled what seemed 
to be a French hymn of very militant temper. It was 
quite dark in the forest, and his only illumination was 
a fitful acetylene lamp. 

He greeted us tvarraly in French and hurriedly ex- 
plained that the spear and the noise were intended to 
frighten atvay wild beasts, particularly leopards, of which 
there were many in the Mendjim Mey. It was not his 

261 



custom, he said, to cycle through the forest at night, but 
his timing had gone wrong and he had been overtaken 
by darkness before he could reach us. In the circum- 
stances there had seemed no alternative to pushing on. 

We took him into the house, where Hilda and Atanaga 
quickly produced an excellent meal of pork, curried 
tinned salmon, fried potatoes, spinach and finally banana 
pudding. He told us that his visit was more for our 
benefit than for the Mendjims, whom he seemed to 
regard as wellnigh hopeless from the spiritual point of 
view, and he gave us the only reliable first-hand news of 
the outside world we had heard for over six months. Next 
morning he rounded up the villagers and in pidgin 
harangued and bewildered them for an hour from the 
improvised pulpit in the little church. Then he was off 
again, and as we watched him cycle away, with his hairy 
white knees protruding sideways from beneath his 
cassock, we could but tvonder at the power and intensity 
of his faith. Apart from ourselves he was at that time, to 
the best of my knowledge, the only living European who 
had ever entered the Mendjim Mey. 

A few days later Hilda went for a walk on her own and 
came running back to me shouting that there was a 
naked white man in the forest, carrying a spear. 1 thought 
at first that it must be either Father Wilhelm who had 
somehow lost both cassock and cycle, or one of the 
wandering European gold prospectors whom I had 
encountered in other parts of the Cameroons “looking 
for money for water” as the natives say, but when I went 
to see I discovered that the man was in fact a Mendjim 
— a total albino with a skin as white as mine. These 
freaks are not uncommon among the forest peoples : the 
Little Chief Mendjoum was a partial albino, and an 

^62 



albino baby was born at Arteck while we were there. 

Most of our time was spent attending to our pets and 
specimens. Every day the village children brought us 
packets of cicadas, beetles and tiny frogs, done up in huge 
leaves which were folded and pinned down with splinters 
of bamboo. But in the afternoon we usually found an 
hour to spare for tennis, which we played on a clearing 
near the house, with a rope stretched across to serve as 
a net, or swimming in the big pool I had made in the 
stream. N’Denge made a screen at the pool for Hilda to 
undress behind. For good measure he built a little seat 
inside it and on the first day adorned it tvith a spray of 
white lilies. The only drawback was that he disturbed a 
nest of ants and Hilda was stung and bitten all over 
before she managed to get into the water. 

I know now that there is a dreadful disease in tropical 
Africa called bilharzia which is caught by contact with 
infected water. Doctors, I suppose, will be horrified to 
learn that we bathed in an open stream. Neither of us 
had ever heard of bilharzia at that time, however, and 
we certainly never caught it. In fact our only concessions 
to life in the tropics were that we slept under a mosquito 
net, took daily doses of quinine and always boiled and 
filtered our drinking water. 

Later on we brought up three sturdy children under 
the same conditions, much to the astonishment of our 
friends in the towns, whose offspring were nearly always 
sickly and pallid. Trudie, Gordon and Brian ran half- 
naked with our servants’ children and ate much the 
same food as they did. Among the delicacies highly prized 
by the natives are fried ants, and Trudie, who is now 
twenty, remembers with delight how she used to join in 
the great feasts of them that took place whenever they 

263 



swarmed. After all, was that so very different from child- 
ren in England collecting and eating periwinkles? Our 
only fear was of jiggers, and Trudie learnt to walk on 
the firm surface of a native bed, so that her feet would 
not come into contact with infected ground. When 
eventually she was old enough to wear sandals and was 
allowed on the ground she still trotted up and down 
within the same limits that had been imposed upon her 
by the bed. A sort of gigantic meat safe protected her 
from mosquitoes. 

Driver ants were a different proposition and Trudie 
narrowly escaped disfigurement by them when she was 
barely twelve months old. It began at four o’clock one 
morning when we were awakened by our dog, which was 
dashing hysterically around the room, banging into the 
walls and furniture. When I jumped out of bed to see 
what was wrong I immediately felt as though I was stand- 
ing on the points of innumerable red-hot needles and I 
did not need to light the lamps to know that we were 
being invaded by driver ants. Shouting to Hilda to 
follow me I took Trudie from her cot and dashed out 
of the house. Outside, Atanaga helped us to rid ourselves 
of the ravenous insects that still clung to our bodies, 
while the other servants went to rescue the animals. Some 
of the birds, whose cages were fronted with gauze, had 
escaped unscathed, but our chameleons, a ground 
squirrel and several leaf frogs had been eaten alive. Only 
their skeletons remained, picked dry and white. 

For hours we tried to stem the advancing hordes of 
ants, using hot ashes, burning newspapers and coal tar 
as well as various native methods like burning certain 
leaves. When daylight came it looked as though we had 
won and we returned to bed, standing the legs of our 

264 



camp-beds in small tins filled with paraffin to protect us 
in case the ants returned. I slept for about an hour before 
I was awakened once more, this time by Trudie crying. I 
jumped out of bed again, disturbing thousands of ants, 
and saw to my horror that Trudie’s cot was black with 
them. The mosquito net covering her tvas held up by a 
string from the ceiling and they had found their way 
down that. In her sleep the child had loosened the net 
where it was tucked under her mattress and they had 
already got inside. Again we all fled from the house. 
Trudie had been bitten on her face, hands and feet, but 
not badly. Had we awakened half a minute later she 
might tvell have suffered serious and permanent injuries. 

Drit'er ants visited us ttvice tvhen we were in Arteck 
and we never knew when the long black streams of them 
might come trickling out of the forest, destroying every 
living thing they could find. The only thing we could do 
when that happened was to get ourselves and our animals 
out of their way as quickly as we could, but once we 
had gone they were welcome to invade the house, for 
they cleared it most efficiently of cockroaches and other 
insect pests. 

These voracious a'eatures march only on sunless days 
or at night, always at the start of the rainy season, and 
some collectors have got up in the morning to find every 
bird and animal in their cages eaten alive. Even animals 
as large as pigs and antelope are not too much for them. 
They do not construct permanent nests but live in tem- 
porary quarters, and we had one of these for a long time 
at the bottom of our garden in Arteck. We tried all 
manner of things to get rid of them, but without success. 
The curious thing about driver ants is that the workers, 
soldiers and females are all totally blind, and I believe 
ocp/ggi — I* 265 



that they locate their prey mainly by sound. At a distance 
of a few yards from them your presence is ignored, but 
if you stamp your foot they immediately make for you. 
Their marching columns are so long that they may take 
three or four days to pass a given point, and the progress 
of those countless millions of tiny feet wear little furrows 
in the ground. 


a66 



CHAPTER XII 


GOOD-BYE GORILLAS 

There were so many gorillas in the Mendjim Mey that 
it was almost impossible to hunt anything else without 
coming across them. Besalla told me that there was a 
solitary buffalo roaming about near the river, and since 
my men had had very little meat for some weeks I ivent 
after it, taking Collonel and N’Denge with me. W e found 
the buffalo’s spoor and began tracking it round an 
abandoned plantation, where the bush was vile and 
progress painfully slow. After an hour or so N’Denge 
tapped me on the shoulder and whispered that he could 
hear a gorilla moving about nearby. Pushing on, we 
came to a tiny clearing where we stood three abreast, 
studying the bush ahead. There was a very strong smell 
of gorilla and I caught a glimpse of something dark 
moving towards us, but the vegetation was too dense for 
me to see what it was or to keep it under observation for 
more than a split second. 

I have repeatedly emphasised that for all their appar- 
ent truculence gorillas are inoffensive creatures and will 
not attack a man who stands his ground, but this is a 
generalisation to which there are exceptions. Gorillas 
vary in temperament as much as we do; some are extra- 
ordinarily brave, others as timid as deer; and sometimes 
the behaviour of solitary bulls is quite unpredictable. 
This lesson was about to be forcibly brought home 



Bending forward slightly so that we could see better, 
and still keeping shoulder to shoulder, the three of us 
cautiously approached the wall of vegetation on the other 
side of the clearing. When we were within a few feet 
of it there was a terrifying roar and a monstrous black 
shape burst out upon us. I am not clear exactly what 
happened immediately after that. I have a faint recollec- 
tion of pressing the trigger of my rifle, of feeling the 
weight of a huge gorilla right on top of me and of seeing 
Collonel and N’Denge go hurtling to either side. Then I 
was buried in leaves and bits of branches and everything 
seemed confused. When I struggled up the gorilla was 
standing on all fours behind me, giving vent to short 
sharp coughs that turned into prolonged screams of rage 
as tvaves of anger overwhelmed him, and making sweep- 
ing lunges at me with his right arm. Then, as I recovered 
my rifle and raised it, he dashed off, but before he had 
covered five yards a bullet struck him in the back of the 
neck. He toppled over, but was on his feet facing me 
again in a moment, and a second bullet took him squarely 
between the eyes. 

Collonel was dazed, with blood trickling from his nose, 
but apart from severe bruises and scratches none of us 
was seriously hurt. The dead gorilla was a fine Old Man, 
his coat grizzled with age and quite silvery in places. 
From his teeth I judged that the animal was past his 
prime and I imagine that he had been exiled from his 
family by a younger and more vigorous bull. 

N’Denge went off and brought the rest of my men and 
we carried the gorilla back to the village. While we were 
skinning it, Oballa came and told me that during the 
past few weeks so much damage had been done among 
his plantations by gorilla families living close to the 

268 



village that he had decided to round them up. Having 
seen enough of the horrors of gorilla round-ups I tried 
hard to dissuade him, but he argued that the animals 
could not be allowed to prejudice the village food 
supplies, which was fair enough, and that there was no 
other way to get rid of them quickly. We almost had a 
row about it, but he refused to give way and I had to 
content myself by repeating my warning that it would 
be useless for him to try to sell me the skins if they 
were mutilated. 

News of the intended round-up was sent to the other 
villages in the area by drum, and spearmen began drift- 
ing in soon afterwards, bringing their women, who 
carried calabashes of food on them heads. The drumming 
went on all night, so that it was impossible to sleep, and 
towards three o’clock in the morning, with the drums 
beating a furious crescendo, all the people marched round 
the village shouting and singing. Afterwards Hilda and 
I dozed fitfully until six, when we got up and after a 
cup of coffee went out to see what was happening. A 
large family of gorillas had been located and a circular 
strip of about five feet wide had already been cleared 
around them, while the fence was going up rapidly. The 
witch-doctor was prancing about waving a pad of 
“medicine” tied to the end of a long stick towards the 
doomed animals, presumably with the intention of keep- 
ing them where they were until preparations W'ere 
complete. We joined the women who stood behind the 
circle of waiting spearmen. From deep in the bush came 
the confused barks, screams and belly-beating of the 
terrified animals. 

“They won’t come out yet,” I told Hilda in answer 
to her questions, “but when they do they’ll come with 

569 



a rush. Keep behind me if you see one of them coming 
through near us." 

“How will they get them out?” 

“Some of the spearmen will go inside to break up the 
family group when the fence is finished. Then the big 
bull will try to lead them out and once he has been 
dealt with the others will be easy. Are you sure you want 
to stay and watch? It will be very unpleasant.” 

“Well, I suppose I’d better stay, now that I’ve come. 
But try and shoot the poor things, Fred, if you can. That 
will be better than having them speared.” 

“I’ll try, of course, but once the bull has been brought 
down the others will scatter and try and break through 
the fence in all directions.” 

The women had begun their offensive of noise, 
hooting, shouting and rattling tins. Renewed screams 
from the gorillas told us that the spearmen had gone 
inside and presently we could see the undergrowth on 
the other side of the cleared strip being tossed about 
violently as the gorillas came towards us. 

The first one to emerge was the Old Man, a magnifi- 
cent bull. With only his head and shoulders visible, and 
the great bulk of his body still concealed by the under- 
growth, he screamed defiance at us. His mouth, wide 
open and armed with long formidable canines, showed 
pink and glistening in contrast to the deep black of his 
hide, and the long matted hair on his arms and shoulders 
fairly shook with fury. Still out of range of the spears, he 
hesitated for a moment or two, but then, hearing the 
spearmen coming towards him from behind, he suddenly 
charged across the clearing. 

A volley of spears flew out from both sides; many of 
them missed, and a few glanced off him. Two dug deep 

s^o 



into his right shoulder and a third into the small of bis 
back. He paused just long enough to knock that one out, 
as you or I might deal with a gnat, and then charged 
again, straight towards us. The spearmen and the women 
scattered, leaving us directly in his path; I stvept Hilda 
behind me and when the gorilla was within ten yards I 
fired three rounds from my .45 revolver straight into his 
chest. He died literally at our feet. 

The rest of the family were close behind him and at 
the sound of my shots they panicked and dashed for the 
fence. Two young males were half-way over when, with 
spears thudding into them from all sides, they collapsed 
and fell back to their deaths. A young female, badly 
wounded in the belly, succeeded in getting over, but in 
her pain and fear she ran straight into the village. Some 
of the men and a lot of the women chased after her, and 
to my dismay, instead of making for the forest on the 
other side, where she might have been safe, she ran into 
one of the huts. 

Then followed a most disgusting scene. Knowing that 
the poor creature could not escape, the tvomen danced 
round the hut, jeering and laughing at her. Hilda and 
I followed them and I knew that they had reached such a 
pitch of frenzy that if I did not interfere the gorilla 
would die a savage and cruel death. Before I could do 
anything Besalla came up, and when he saw the look on 
my face he pushed the women and spearmen aside, 
entered the hut and killed the gorilla as mercifully as 
he could. 

Six gorillas were killed in that round-up and goodness 
knows how many broke through the trap and escaped, 
but we had not lost our hairy neighbours altogether. 
Roving bands of gorillas soon took the place of those that 

371 



had been slain or driven away. Presently they were 
raiding the plantations again and in the evenings they 
could be heard calling to each other from their beds. 
That was the cycle of gorilla and native life in the 
Mendjim Mey. Gorillas were regularly hunted for food, 
but they continued to raid the plantations until the 
villagers, roused at last from their usual lethargy, killed 
comparatively large numbers of them and drove away 
the rest. For a short time the plantations were secure, 
then more gorillas moved in from other parts of the 
forest and it all began again. Thus, both gorilla and 
human populations were maintained at the level 
appointed by that delicate, complex and inexorable 
system of laws which we call the Balance of Nature. 

# * * 

The vanishing hippopotamus of the Mendjim Mey 
was a puzzle I never managed to solve. There are no 
hippos in the Mendjim Mey, at least there ought not to 
be, for though the country is interlaced with rivers, these 
are comparatively small, and the forest comes right down 
to the water, so that there is no suitable bank-side vegeta- 
tion for hippos to feed on. So that when, one day, I found 
fresh dung and the tracks of a big hippo near the Boumbi 
river, about a mile from Arteck, I was almost as surprised 
as I would have been to find a hippo wallowing in the 
Serpentine. I had no idea where the beast could have 
come from, for the nearest hippo country was a hundred 
miles away, south of Assubam. The Boumbi river, 
though very deep, is never more than fifty yards wide and 
is choked with rotten tree-trunks and branches, offering 
no suitable cover for so large a beast. 

This intrigued me very much, and I began hunting 

273 



t2ie animal and making enquiries among the Mendjims. 
The Boumbi river and its tributaries were fished almost 
daily by the men and boys, but none of them had ever 
seen the hippo. Its territory consisted of a stretch of river 
of about four hours’ march, where there were some half 
a dozen small, swampy patches of grass on which it 
apparently fed. Otherwise the banks were covered with 
dense forest, and the hippo had made wide pathways 
through the undergrowth as elephants do. 

Every day for nearly three weeks I and seven of m)’ 
men hunted this animal. The fresh tracks we found were 
always to and from the river, so there was no question of 
it lying up in the swamps. One day it got into the planta- 
tions of a village near Arteck and played havoc among 
the crops, so the villagers dug a pit in the forest path^v^ay. 
The hippo fell in, but somehow it got out again, and 
from then on it never used the same path twice. 

Apart from Besalla and one or ttvo others, none of the 
Mendjims had ever seen a hippo and they knew nothing 
about these animals. They believed that it lived some- 
where in the river, spending the day at the bottom, but 
they had no idea that it would have to come to the surface 
at regular intervals in order to breathe. The fact that it 
was such a big animal, which they knew from its dung 
and tracks, that no one had ever seen it and that it had 
defeated my efforts to track it down, led them as usual to 
believe that it was some sort of ju-ju beast. It tvas indeed 
remarkable that the animal could conceal itself so 
efficiently from the eyes of my expert trackers. 

The vanishing hippo continued to haunt the 
Mendjim Mey, as I heard by report, for some years after 
I left there. I had judged from its tracks that it was a bull 
hippo, and I shall never understand what it was doing in 

«73 



the Mendjim Mey. Hippos, however, have a reputation 
for roaming about in unexpected places for no apparent 
reason. The most famous of these wandering animals 
was Huberta, who for two years toured parts of South 
Africa where no hippos had been seen in living memory 
and was feted and protected wherever she went. 
Huberta’s story even reached the pages of Punch, and 
thousands of people all over the world followed the news- 
paper reports of her daily progress. 

* * » 

Towards the height of the rainy season Atanaga fell ill. 
It began when he came to us saying that he had worms 
and asking for treatment. We gave him some Santonin 
tablets which Maton had sent with a recent consignment 
of supplies, but later on we found that he had been 
taking the advice of numerous villagers and was swallow- 
ing all manner of native concoctions. Then he caught a 
chill and went to bed with a slight fever. At first we 
thought nothing of it, but when Hilda took his tempera- 
ture and found it to be 105 we were seriously alarmed. 
Atanaga and his wife Eli had spent a great deal of money 
on fancy clothes, so that they could show off in front of 
the almost naked villagers, but neither of them had seen 
fit to bring so useful a thing as a blanket. We gave him 
one of ours and tucked him up as comfortably as we 
could, but the next day he seemed worse. 

I got him out of bed and gave him a steam bath, which 
is usually successful in bad cases of fever, and dosed him 
liberally with aspirin and fever tea brewed from the 
blades of citronella grass. In the morning we were sur- 
prised to find that his temperature had dropped only one 
degree. He was complaining of severe pains in the lower 

374 



part of his chest, and had a dry hard cough. We spent the 
morning thumbing through our medical book and 
eventually decided that his symptoms fitted only one 
disease — pneumonia. 

There was very little I could do about it except to 
keep him warm, but I tried cupping him — a practice 
which was still in vogue out there — and that seemed to 
ease him a little. But now he had begun to fear that he 
was going to die and he told me that this was because he 
had underpaid an old woman for some plantains and 
that she had cursed him for it, and warned him that he 
would never return to his home in Yaounde. The old 
woman, he said, had certainly put a witch into him, and 
since in these circumstances European medicines would 
obviously be useless, he begged us to allow the village 
witch-doctor to come and treat him. 

For a time I held out against his request, but on the 
fifth day his temperature and pain had not abated and at 
last I yielded to his pleading and sent for the witch- 
doctor. This person, a man of about forty, wore none of 
the insignia that Europeans popularly associate with his 
profession. Normally it is impossible to distinguish a 
witch-doctor from any other villager; the paint and 
ornaments so dearly beloved of fiction VTiters and film 
producers are in fact worn only on special occasions. Our 
witch-doctor brought with him a monkey-skin bag and 
a large gourd. In the bag were a clay pot, parrot clatvs, 
dried rats, some leaves, pieces of bark, a crescent-shaped 
knife and a small bush-buck horn with the tip cut off and 
the opening covered with a lump of black beeswax. The 
gourd was half full of bark, some ashes, and the bones of 
fowls. He carefully examined his patient and announced 
that someone had introduced into him at least one 


275 



powerlul witch, and possibly several. Prognosis was 
grave, but he was prepared to do his best. 

He began by boiling the bark and leaves in the clay 
pot, and while this was brewing he examined Atanaga’s 
left shoulder blade, where the pain was the worst. He 
took the skin between his fore-finger and thumb and 
with the knife made two cuts about half an inch long. 
Then he rubbed them with ash from the gourd, placed 
the horn over the wounds and sucked out as much of the 
air as he could, sealing up the opening with beeswax. 
Pie left the horn in place for about five minutes and then 
released the vacuum by piercing the wax with a splinter 
of bamboo. The horn came away from Atanaga’s skin 
and was then held over a leaf and explored with the 
bamboo. A few blobs of congealed blood fell out, but 
the witch-doctor shook his head gravely and said that the 
witch itself had escaped. 

This treatment was continued and an hour later poor 
Atanaga had sixteen cuts in various parts of his body. 
The result was always the same — no witches 1 The witch- 
doctor, looking very severe and sad, rubbed his hands in 
the liquid brewed in the clay pot, producing a soapy 
foam, and liberally anointed Atanaga with the rest of the 
stuff. Turning to Hilda, who had been an interested 
spectator of these proceedings, he said that in spite of 
his efforts the witches had got away, but that he would 
return to-morrow and try again. 

He came next morning and began cutting and 
cupping Atanaga in various parts of the body. At last, as 
he poked about in the horn, two tiny objects fell on to the 
leaf and he let out a cry of joy. These were the witches 
maliciously introduced into Atanaga’s person by some- 
one who understood witchcraft. Had they remained 

276 



tliere, Atanaga would certainly have died. In spite of the 
witch-doctor’s protests we insisted on keeping these 
witches. One of them was sent to the Powell-Cotton 
Museum, and the other lies beside me as I write. I am 
sorry to disillusion anyone who romantically clings to 
some sort of a belief in magic, but our witch-doctor was 
a fraud, at least on this occasion. My witch is simply a 
tiny blob of black wax with the end of a bird’s quill — the 
sort of thing you find remaining in the skin of a plucked 
chicken — stuck on the top. There is no doubt that he had 
concealed them in the horn before he began. 

Atanaga complained of renewed pains in the head the 
next day and again the witch-doctor came, this time 
giving him a broth made from a stetved rat, parrot’s 
claws and various leaves. On the eighth day his tempera- 
ture suddenly fell back to normal, precisely as our 
medical book forecast in cases of pneumonia, but of 
course he ^vas convinced that the cure had been effected 
by the witch-doctor, and we did not try to disillusion 
him. Atanaga was afterwards so thin and tveak that w'e 
sent him to his home in Yaounde to recuperate. 

Meanwhile I had made a discovei7 that excited me 
tremendously. One of the village children tvho collected 
small creatures for me had brought along some tadpoles 
in a tin can. Nothing remarkable in a child finding tad- 
poles, you may say, but in this case the tadpoles were 
three inches long, the biggest I had ever seen. I began to , 
hope that at last I had found the giant or goliath frog, 
which had been the object of several unsuccessful 
expeditions I had made in the past. On one occasion, just 
before I met my unpleasant client Vincent, I spent two 
fruitless months wandering about the forests in search 
of these enormous amphibians, which exist nowhere else 

277 



in the world. Hilda and I tended the tadpoles as carefully 
as if they had been sick children. We found where they 
came from and caught many more, but they always died 
and I was never able to discover the adult frogs. Later 
on, dissection proved that they were not the ones I was 
looking for, and another two years were to pass before I 
eventually found the true giant frogs in the Yabassi 
district of the Cameroons. The queer thing was that none 
of my friends would believe me until they actually saw 
them. 

“What’s this rubbish I hear about you finding frogs 
weighing over four pounds each, Merfield?” The 
question came from Harry Francis, one of a group of 
friends with whom I was enjoying a drink in Douala. 

“It’s not rubbish at all,” I replied. “I’ve got a dozen 
of them.” 

They all laughed. “We’ve had enough of you, Merf,” 
said another of them. “Gorillas, giant eland, cannibals 
and all the rest we can swallow. We know that’s true. 
But frogs over four pounds — never! ” 

I went outside and sent one of the servants back to my 
house, telling him to bring the large tin drum he would 
find on the verandah. When he returned I placed the 
drum on the floor, and gently prised open the lid. Like a 
very powerful and efficient jack-in-the-box, an enormous 
frog shot out and hit Harry Francis squarely in the chest, 
almost knocking him over. When the pandemonium 
died down, I recovered the frog and showed it to them. 
I tried to buy Harry a drink, for he looked as though 
he needed one, but he seemed to think that in the 
circumstances the privilege should be his. 

“Now tell us all about the beastly things,” he said, 
when we had quietened down again. 

278 



“There’s not much to tell really. You know I’ve been 
looking for them for years. They were quite easy to find 
once I had discovered that they lived in a particular part 
of the Yabassi forest. Fast-running, rocky hill-streams 
are the sort of thing they like, and you can see them 
sitting about on the rocks in the day-time. Unfortunately 
they pop into the water and disappear as soon as they see 
or hear you, and for a long time I couldn’t catch them. 
Then I tried at night. It was quite easy to see them; 
their eyes gleamed brightly in the light of my lamp and 
they seemed dazzled by it, so I managed to net them 
without much trouble. 

“Then I learned that when they are disturbed and 
jump into the water they creep into comparatively small 
holes under or between the rocks. I tried to get one of 
them out, but when I put my hand in the hole he forced 
upwards with his hind legs and my hand was jammed 
against the roof. I got free after an effort, but I left a 
lot of skin behind, and it was impossible to get the frog 
out without killing or severely injuring it.” 

To satisfy my friends, I brought out the frog again, 
put it in a bag and weighed it on the scales of a nearby 
store. This specimen just reached four pounds six 
ounces. Its body length was twelve inches, and when the 
hind legs were stretched out behind, nearly double that. 
The giant frogs never tried to bite me, though they were 
immensely strong and two hands were needed to hold 
them. They lived on all manner of small living creatures 
— snails, toads and smaller frogs, mice and even rats, all 
of which were caught and swallowed whole. In the 
Natural History Museum, London, a mounted specimen 
is shown in the act of swallowing a small rat. Their 
method of doing this was fascinating, in a horrid sort of 

279 



way. They caught the rats by the head, holding them 
fast with the row of tiny teeth they have in the upper 
jaw, and then, sitting upright in the water, they used 
their front paws to stuff the wretched creatures inside. 

I kept them for several months in a pool surrounded 
by a high fence of galvanised iron, for they were capable 
of jumping prodigious heights and were almost impos- 
sible to catch once they got away. Then the late Professor 
Fleck of the Berlin Zoo arrived in the Cameroons and 
delightedly bought the lot. I heard from him later that 
he had not been able to keep them sufficiently moist on 
the journey home, and that they had all died. I do not 
think that Rana goliath has ever been exhibited alive in 
England. 

Another rare animal I got was a sub-species of the red 
colobus monkey — Colobus ferrugineus preussi, to give it 
its full scientific name. It began when I noticed a native 
in Yabassi carrying the skin of a monkey I had never seen 
before. I bought it from him and since I could not 
identify it I sent it to the late Captain Guy Dolhnan, of 
the British Museum, Natural History. He wrote to say 
that the animal up to then had been known only by one 
skin, which was in the Berlin Museum. This skin was 
collected by Dr. Paul Matschie as far back as 1900, and 
no other specimen had since been found. 

That was all the encouragement I needed for a new 
expedition. The man who had sold me the skin had 
bought it from another native who was a stranger to him, 
so that did not help me, but some months’ exhaustive 
enquiries led me to a little village called N’Dogofas, high 
up in the mountains thirty miles nonth of Yabassi, and 
in the surrounding district I found the elusive colobus. 

These monkeys were impossible to catch alive, for they 

580 



lived high in the inaccessible branches of tall trees, and 
never seemed to come to the ground. Even when 
frightened or disturbed they did not drop doTvn into the 
undergrowth as other monkeys do. Shooting tliem from 
the ground was almost as difficult, for they were hard to 
see and moved about very rapidly. Living in large family 
groups, and never coming near human habitations, they 
favoured high rocky country, broken by fast-running 
rivers. The females have unusually large menstrual 
swellings, a phenomenon which was investigated in my 
specimens by Dr. Osman Hill, who is now Prosector of 
the Zoological Society of London. At last I was able to 
secure a dozen specimens, of which I preserved the skins 
and skeletons and sent them to the British Museum and 
Ubersee Museum, Bremen. While engaged in writing 
this book I went with Mr. Miller, my collaborator, to the 
British Museum to examine gorilla skulls and we were 
delighted to find that my red colobus skins are still there, 
and in an excellent state of preservation. 

* « « 

Hilda’s introduction to the pygmies of the Mendjim 
Mey did not take place until some time after she arrived, 
for the little people of the forest were extremely shy. 
Sometimes, during her evening walks or her butterfly 
hunts, she would catch a glimpse of them darting like 
frightened antelopes across the forest paths, disappearing 
without a sound into the undergrowth on the other side, 
but they would not come near her. Then the time came 
when I thought she should make a deliberate effort to 
win their confidence, and I went out with her looking for 
them and carrying tins of salt to give them as presents, 
for there is nothing they value more highly. 

381 



On our first expeditions we dretv blanks, but one day 
we came across a large family of pygmies moving along 
an elephant track on their way to netv hunting grounds. 
They vanished among the leaves as soon as they caught 
sight of us, but I told Hilda to stand still and I called 
out to them to come back so that I could give them salt. 
For a long time there was no sight or sound of them, and 
I thought they were going to ignore me altogether, so we 
put the salt on the ground and withdrew a few paces. 
Presently a small, wrinkled brown face peered at us from 
behind a shroud of vines, and then its owner stepped out 
on to the track. The little brown man gravely picked up 
the salt and, looking over his shoulder, said something 
to the rest of his hidden family, and they all came out to 
join us. 

Like the villagers, the pygmies were deeply interested 
in Hilda’s clothing and her white skin, but they, too, 
soon got used to seeing her wandering about the forest, 
sometimes with a butterfly-net in hand sometimes 
rooting about among the undergrowth in search of 
beetles and scorpions, and they came to accept her as an 
interesting, friendly and entirely harmless innovation. 
They no longer hid or ran away when they saw her; if 
they were busy hunting they greeted her silently with a 
smile and a nod; if not, they stopped and delightedly 
accepted the little presents she always took with her in 
case she should meet them. 

But Besalla and the other Mendjims were jealous of 
our friendship with the pygmies and rve had to be careful 
not to offend or alienate either side. Pygmy families are 
always more or less under the thumb of a local village 
chief or other leading native, who exploits their hunting 
skill and on whom they are entirely dependent for 

a8a 



weapons, salt and tobacco. Besalla once used this 
influence over the local pygmies to cheat me out of a 
pair of valuable ivories, but at least the incident served 
to give me a closer acquaintance tvith pygmy life and 
hunting methods. 

The bull elephant that carried those ivories had been 
roaming near the village for several weeks and I decided 
to go after him. Besalla consented to come with me — 
rather too eagerly I thought — and together we began 
tracking the animal. This took much longer than I 
expected, and towards six o’clock in the evening we had 
still not caught up with the animal and it was getting 
dark. Besalla said he knew of a pygmy camp in the area, 
and not wishing to make the long journey back through 
the forest after dark, I agreed to go there and seek shelter 
for the night. 

As usual there was no track leading to the pygmies’ 
camp and we had to wade along the bed of a stream to 
reach it. Our reception was not as cordial as I could have 
wished, for though at first the little men were happy to 
see me, their faces fell when they learned that I was 
hunting elephant in what they considered their reserve. 
Nevertheless they readily agreed to let us spend the 
night in one of their tiny, leafy huts, and W'e were asleep 
a few minutes after we had crawled in through the low 
entrance hole. 

In the morning Besalla behaved strangely and was 
obviously uneasy about something. When I questioned 
him he said that the pygmies were angry with us for 
hunting the elephant, but I knew him well enough to 
suspect that this was not the whole truth. He rvent so far 
as to suggest abandoning the hunt, assuring me that the 
elephant would now' have gone too far to be found. Why 

283 



not leave i.he elephant to the pygmies, he asked? After 
all, I would only give away the meat to my men, and 1 
could always buy the ivories from the pygmies for a 
very low price. 

Then, seeing that I was suspicious of his attitude, 
Besalla tried a different line. He reminded me that when 
I first came to the Mendjim Mey I had been most anxious 
to see how his people hunted gorillas; would I not be 
equally interested in the pygmy method of hunting 
elephants? If so, that could easily be arranged. I agreed 
to this proposal, not only because of my admitted interest 
in the pygmies’ technique, but also to discover what 
Besalla was up to, for I was certain he had some sort of 
nefarious scheme in mind. 

Standing some way from me, Besalla had a long con- 
versation with two of the pygmies. Then they seemed to 
reach an agreement; the two little men nodded vigor- 
ously, looking towards me, and Besalla came over and 
said that they had agreed to take me hunting elephant 
with them, but that I must promise not to use my rifle 
unless in an emergency. I gave my word that I would 
not, and we all started off through the bush, After half a 
mile I was utterly exhausted, for I just could not keep up 
with the pygmies. They moved through the jungle at an 
astonishing pace, seeming to slip like shadows through 
tiny gaps or weak points in the vegetation that I would 
never even have noticed. Again I was struck with their 
ability to do this without making a sound, It was almost 
as though the leaves themselves moved noiselessly aside 
to let them pass. 

Besalla was faring no better than I, and we lagged so 
far behind that at last I feared that we had lost the 
pygmies altogether. Besalla gave a long low whistle, and 

584 



in a second or two our guides reappeared, looking sur- 
prised at our weary faces. Besalla told them that it was 
impossible for us to keep up such a pace and they 
suggested that we should stay where we were until they 
had found the elephant. We gladly agi-eed to this plan, 
and sat panting on a fallen tree for perhaps half an hour 
when, without so much as a rustle to warn us that he was 
near, one of the pygmies suddenly reappeared and 
beckoned us to follow him. 

We crept along after him for a considerable distance 
until we came to the second pygmy, standing almost 
invisible among a tangle of lianas. Fifty yards away tvas 
a patch of jungle very much more dense than the rest, 
and in this stood the elephant. Only his vast grey back- 
side was visible to us. The pygmy tapped me on the 
chest and pointed to the ground, indicating that I was to 
stay where I was. Then he stooped and ducked into the 
bushes, disappearing once more. 

I studied the jungle between us and the elephant 
closely, trying to follow the pygmy’s progi'ess, but there 
was not the quiver of a leaf to show where he was. I gave 
that up and turned my attention to the elephant, watch- 
ing him through my binoculars. The great beast seemed 
to be dozing, and his only movement was to shift his 
rveight occasionally from one hind-leg to the other. 
Suddenly I saw the pygmy and I gave a little jump of 
astonishment, for the man had risen from the bush so 
close to the elephant’s left hind-leg that he could easily 
have touched him. I saw him make a quick deft move- 
ment, and the blade of his broad-headed spear glinted as 
he drove it home in the elephant’s belly. The poor beast 
gave a terrifying scream, and went crashing away from 
us through the forest, trumpeting with fear and pain. 

285 



The pygmy had speared it and disappeared again so 
quickly and silently that the elephant could never have 
known what sort of creature had attacked him. 

It would not have been possible for me to go after the 
tTOunded animal in that bush, and I had to be content 
with the pygmy’s assurance that it would soon die, 
though I was pretty sure that its death would actually 
be slow and agonising. We returned to camp and next 
day the pygmies announced that they had found the 
elephant dead and invited me to inspect it. I found that 
the spear had been driven deep into the intestines, just 
in front of the hind-leg, and that the elephant had 
probably broken off the protruding shaft. 

Back in Arteck, Besalla’s plan became clear. If I had 
shot the elephant it would have belonged entirely to me. 
I would have sold the ivories and parcelled out the meat 
among my men, so that Besalla would have got no more 
than the others. But the pygmies were very much under 
his control and when they brought in the smoke-dried 
meat he was able to get it for what was, to him, a bargain 
price. 

The pygmies haggled with him for nearly a w^eek, in- 
specting and rejecting various numbers, quantities and 
combinations of spear-heads, knives, salt and tobacco. 
Now Besalla had an attractive young daughter, whom 
Hilda and I knew very well and who was about twelve 
at this time. During the week one of the pygmies saw 
her and asked for her in exchange for the meat and 
ivories. Besalla held out against this for a long time, 
simply in accordance with African business traditions 
and not through any fatherly affection for the girl, but 
eventually he agreed and she was handed over. I don’t 
know whether she understood what was happening to 

^86 



her, but she went off with the pygmies without a murmur 
and of course there were no fond farewells of any kind 
between father and daughter before they parted, for 
Besalla thought no more of it than if she had been a 
goat. Hilda and I never saw the child again. 

« # # 

We had known for more than four months that Hilda 
was going to have a baby. I was anxious that she should 
be attended by a European doctor during the birth and 
we therefore decided to leave the Mendjim Mey. Trudie 
was born in the comparative security of a small hospital 
at Yaounde, but owing to the death of a patient in the 
next room from an infectious illness, the doctor advised 
us to leave a few days after she was born and the only 
other shelter we could find was a native hut. Afterwards 
the responsibility of a family imposed a more settled 
but no less colourful life upon me. Every now and then 
I would find a native with a skin or carcase of an animal 
I had rarely seen before and I could not rest until I 
found where it lived and brought it back, alive or dead. 

When this happened Hilda always understood, though 
it often meant loneliness and hardship for her. Giving 
me a little squeeze she would bid me go after the animal, 
knowing that I would never be happy until I had found 
it. We came across gorillas again many times in other 
parts of the Cameroons, but nowhere were they so plenti- 
ful as in the Mendjim Mey. 

When the Second World War broke out and the 
French in Europe capitulated, Hilda and the children 
were evacuated to the British Cameroons, but I stayed 
behind and luckily the French declared themselves for 
General de Gaulle. After general mobilisation there 

«87 



were then only a handful of Europeans in the French 
Cameroons who understood native ways and could con- 
trol the tribes, and because of that I was asked to accept 
a commission in the Police. I spent the war years as 
Monsieur Le Commissaire in the towns of Yabassi and 
Bafang, and owing to wartime conditions I virtually 
governed the place. The French Government were kind 
enough to award me an Order of Merit and a Colonial 
Medal. I wonder if any other Englishman has ever 
become a French policeman? Hilda and I have many 
stories to tell of these years, but they must await another 
book. 

All these things still lay ahead of us as we struggled 
out of the Mendjim Mey, with Collonel and N’Denge, 
grown even gentler than before, helping and sometimes 
carrying Hilda on their backs across streams and over 
rickety bridges. Just after we had left the Little Chief 
Mendjoum at tlte village of Jebada we heard a familiar 
sound. Hilda and I let the carriers move on ahead of us 
and when the last of them had passed and we stood alone 
in the forest, we listened together for the last time to the 
grunts and barks of our neighbours, the gorillas. 


288